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Title: A Charming Fellow, Volume I
Author: Trollope, Frances Eleanor, 1835-1913
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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      novel.

      Images of the original pages are available through
      Internet Archive/American Libraries. See
      http://www.archive.org/details/charmingfellow01trol



A CHARMING FELLOW.

by

FRANCES ELEANOR TROLLOPE,

Author of "Aunt Margaret's Trouble," "Mabel's Progress," etc. etc.

In Three Volumes.

VOL. I.



London:
Chapman and Hall, 193, Piccadilly.
1876.

Charles Dickens and Evans,
Crystal Palace Press.



A CHARMING FELLOW.



CHAPTER I.


"To be frank with you, Mr. Diamond, I don't believe Dr. Bodkin
understands my son's genius."

"I beg your pardon, madam, you said your son's----?"

"Genius, sir; the bent of his genius. Algy's is not a mechanical mind."

Mrs. Errington slightly tossed her head as she uttered the word
"mechanical."

Mr. Diamond said "Oh!" and then sat silent.

The room was very quiet. The autumn day was fading, and the mingling of
twilight and firelight, and the stillness of the scene, were conducive
to mute meditation. It was a long, low room, with an uneven floor, a
whitewashed ceiling crossed by heavy beams, and one large bow window. It
was furnished with the spindle-legged chairs and tables in use in the
last century. A crimson drugget covered the floor, and in front of the
hearth lay a rug, made of scraps of black and coloured cloth, neatly
sewn together in a pattern. Over the high wooden mantelpiece hung, on
one side, a faded water-colour sketch of a gentleman, with powdered
hair; and on the other, an oval miniature of much later date, which
represented a fair, florid young lady, with large languid blue eyes, and
a red mouth, somewhat too full-lipped. Notwithstanding the years which
had elapsed since the miniature was painted, it was still sufficiently
like Mrs. Errington to be recognised for her portrait. There was an old
harpsichord in the room, and a few books on hanging shelves. But the
only handsome or costly object to be seen were some delicate blue and
white china cups and saucers, which glistened from an oaken
corner-cupboard; and a large work-box of tortoise-shell, inlaid with
mother-of-pearl, lined with amber satin, and fitted with all the
implements of needlework, in richly-chased silver. The box, like the
china cupboard, stood wide open to display its contents, and was
evidently a subject of pride to its possessor. It was entirely
incongruous with the rest of the furniture, which, although decent and
serviceable, was very plain, and rather scanty.

Nevertheless the room looked snug and homelike. The coal-fire burnt with
a deep glowing light; a small copper kettle was singing cheerily on the
hob; tea-things were laid on a table in front of the fire; and a fitful,
moaning wind, that rattled now and then against the antique casement,
enhanced the comfort of the scene by its suggestion of forlorn
chilliness without.

But however the influences of the time and place might incline Mr.
Diamond to silence, they had no such effect on Mrs. Errington.

After a short pause, during which she seemed to be awaiting some remark
from her companion, she observed once more, "No; I do not think the
doctor understands Algy's genius. And that is why I was anxious to ask
your advice, on this proposition of Mr. Filthorpe's."

"But, madam, why should you suppose me likely to understand Algernon
better than Dr. Bodkin does?"

"Oh, because----In the first place, you are younger, nearer Algy's own
age."

"Ah! There is a wide gap, though, between his eighteen and my
eight-and-twenty--a wider gap than the mere ten years would necessarily
make in all cases."

Mrs. Errington glanced at the speaker, and thought, in the maternal
pride of her heart, that there was indeed a wide difference between her
joyous, handsome Algernon, and Matthew Diamond, second master at the
Whitford Grammar School; and she thought, too, that the difference was
all to her son's advantage. Mr. Diamond was a grave-looking young man,
with a spare, strong figure, and a face which, in repose, was neither
handsome nor ugly. His clean-shaven chin and upper lip were firmly cut,
and he had a pair of keen grey eyes. But such as it was, it was a face
which most persons who saw it often, fell into a habit of watching. It
raised an indefinite expectation. You were instinctively aware of
something latent beneath its habitual expression of seriousness and
reserve. What the "something" might be, was variously guessed at
according to the temperament of the observer.

"Then there is another reason why I wished to consult you," pursued Mrs.
Errington. "I have a great opinion of your judgment, from what Algy
tells me. I assure you Algy thinks an immense deal of your talents, Mr.
Diamond. You must not think I flatter you."

"No," replied Mr. Diamond, very quietly, "I do not think you flatter
me."

"And therefore I have told you the state of the case quite openly. And I
would not have you hesitate to give your advice, from any fear of
disagreeing with my opinion."

Mr. Diamond leaned his elbow on the table, and his face on his hand,
which he held so as to hide his mouth--an habitual posture with him--and
looked gravely at Mrs. Errington.

"I trust," continued the lady, "that I am superior to the weakness of
requiring blind acquiescence from people."

Mrs. Errington spoke in a mellow, measured voice, and had a soft smiling
cast of countenance. Both these were frequently contradicted in a
startling manner by the words she uttered: for, in truth, the worthy
lady's soul and body were no more like each other than a peach-stone is
like a peach. Her velvety softness was not affected, but it was merely
external, and the real woman was nothing less than tender. Sensitive
persons did not fare very well with Mrs. Errington; who, withal, had the
reputation of being an exceedingly good-natured woman.

"If you think my advice worth having----" said Mr. Diamond.

"I do really. Now pray don't be shy of speaking out!" interrupted the
lady, reassuringly.

"I must tell you that I think your cousin's offer is much too good to be
refused, and opens a prospect which many young men would envy."

"You advise us to accept it?"

"Yes."

"Why, then, Mr. Diamond, I don't believe you understand Algy one bit
better than the doctor does!" exclaimed Mrs. Errington, leaning back in
her chair, and folding her large white hands together in a resigned
manner.

"I warned you, you know, that I might not," answered Mr. Diamond,
composedly.

"'A prospect which many young men would envy!' Well, perhaps 'many young
men,' yes; I daresay. But for Algy! Do but think of it, Mr. Diamond; to
sit all day on a high stool in a musty office! You must own that, for a
young fellow of my son's spirit, the idea is not alluring."

"Oh, if the question be merely for Algernon to choose some method of
passing his time which shall be alluring----"

Mrs. Errington drew herself up a little. "No;" said she, "that is
certainly not the question, Mr. Diamond. At the same time, before
embracing Mr. Filthorpe's offer, I thought it only reasonable to ask
myself, 'May we not do better? Can we not do better?'"

"I begin to perceive," thought Matthew Diamond within himself, "that
Mrs. Errington's meaning, when she asks 'advice,' is pretty much like
that of most of her neighbours. Having already made up her mind how to
act, she would like to be told that her decision is the best and wisest
conceivable." He said nothing, however, but bowed his head a little, to
show that he was giving attention to the lady's discourse.

"We have an alternative, you must know," said Mrs. Errington, turning
her eyes languidly on Mr. Diamond, but not moving her head from its
comfortable resting-place against the back of her well-cushioned
arm-chair. "We are not bound hand and foot to this Bristol merchant. By
the way, you spoke of him as my cousin----"

"I beg your pardon; is he not so?"

"No; not mine. My poor husband's," with a glance at the portrait over
the mantelpiece. "None of my family ever had the remotest connection
with commerce."

"Ha! The good fortune was all on the side of the Erringtons?"

This time Mrs. Errington turned her head, so as to look full at her
interlocutor. There met her view the same calm forehead, the same steady
eyes, the same sheltering hand gently stroking the upper lip, which she
had looked upon a minute before.

"My good sir!" she answered, in a tone of patient explanation, "my own
family, the Ancrams, were people of the very first quality in
Warwickshire. My grandfather never stirred out without his coach and
four!"

"Ah!"

"Oh, yes, Algy's prospects in life ought to be very, very different from
what they are. Of course he ought to go to the university; but I cannot
afford to send him there. I make no secret of my circumstances. College
is out of the question for him, poor boy, unless he entered himself as a
what-do-you-call-it? A sort of pauper, a sizar. And I suppose you would
hardly advise him to do that!"

"No; I should by no means advise it. I was a sizar myself."

"Really? Ah well, then you know what it is. And I am quite sure it would
never suit Algy's spirits."

"I am quite sure it would not."

Mrs. Errington's good opinion of the tutor's judgment, which had been
considerably shaken, began to revive.

"I see you know something of his character," said she, smiling. "Well,
then, the case stands thus; Algy is turned eighteen; he has had the best
education I could give him--indeed, my chief motive for settling in this
obscure little hole, when I was left a widow, was the fact that Dr.
Bodkin, who was an old acquaintance of my husband, was head of the
Grammar School here, and I knew I could give my boy the education of a
gentleman--up to a certain point--at small expense. He has had this
offer from the Bristol man, and he has had another offer of a very
different sort from my side of the house."

"Indeed!"

"Oh, yes; perhaps if I had began by stating that circumstance, you might
have modified your advice, eh, Mr. Diamond?" This was said in a tone of
mild raillery.

"Why," answered Mr. Diamond, slowly, "I must own that my advice usually
does depend somewhat on my knowledge of the circumstances of the case
under consideration."

"Now, that's candid--and I love candour, as I told you. The fact is,
Lord Seely married an Ancram."

There was a pause. Mrs. Errington looked inquiringly at her companion.
"You have heard of Lord Seely?" she said.

"I have seen his name in the newspapers, in the days when I used to read
newspapers."

"He is a most distinguished nobleman."

Another pause.

"Well," continued Mrs. Errington, condescendingly, "I cannot expect all
that to interest you, Mr. Diamond. Perhaps there may be a little family
partiality, in my estimate of Lord Seely. However, be that as it may, he
married an Ancram. She was of the younger branch, my father's second
cousin. When Algy first began to turn his thoughts towards a diplomatic
career----"

"Eh?"

"A diplomatic----Oh, didn't you know? Yes; he has had serious thoughts
of it for some time."

"Algernon?"

"Certainly! And, in confidence, Mr. Diamond, I think it would suit him
admirably. I fancy it is what his genius is best adapted for. Well,
when I perceived this bent in him, I made--indirectly--application to
Lady Seely, and she returned--also indirectly--a most gracious answer.
She should be happy to receive Mr. Algernon Ancram Errington, whenever
she was in town."

"Is that all?"

"All?"

"All that you have to tell me, to modify--and so on?"

"That would lead to more, don't you see? Lord Seely has enormous
influence, and I don't know anyone better able to push the fortunes of a
young man like Algy."

"But has he promised anything definite?"

"He could hardly do that, seeing that, as yet, he knows nothing of my
son whatever! My dear Mr. Diamond, when you know as much of the world as
I do, you will see that it does not do to rush at things in a hurry. You
must give people time. Especially a man like Lord Seely, who of course
cannot be expected to--to----"

"Do you mean that you seriously contemplate dropping the substance of
Filthorpe, for this shadow of Seely?"

"Mr. Diamond! What very extraordinary expressions!"

Mr. Diamond took his hand from his mouth, clasped both hands on his
knee, and sat looking into the fire as abstractedly as if there had
been no other person within sight or sound of him.

Mrs. Errington, apparently taking it for granted that his attitude was
one of profound attention to herself, proceeded flowingly to justify her
decision, for it evidently was a decision--to decline the Bristol
merchant's offer of employment and a home for her son. Besides Algy's
"genius," there were other objections. Mr. Filthorpe had a vulgar wife
and a vulgar daughter. Of course they must be vulgar. That was clear.
And who could say that they might not endeavour to entangle Algy in some
promise, or engagement, to marry the daughter? Nay, it was very certain
that they would make such an endeavour. Possibly--probably--that was old
Filthorpe's real object in inviting his young relative to accept a place
in his counting-house. Indeed, they might confidently consider that it
was so. Of course Algy would be a bait to these people! And as to Lord
Seely, Mr. Diamond did not know (how should he? seeing that he had been
little more than a twelvemonth in Whitford, and out of that time had
scarcely ever had an hour's converse with her) that she, Mrs. Errington,
was a person rather apt to hide and diminish, than unduly blazon forth
her family glories. And she was, moreover, scrupulous to a fault in the
accuracy of all her statements. Nevertheless, she must say that there
was, perhaps, no nobleman in England whose patronage would have more
weight than his lordship's; and whether or not the brilliancy of Algy's
parts, and the charm of his manners, would be likely to captivate a man
of Lord Seely's taste and cultivation; that she left to the sense and
candour of any one who knew, and could appreciate her son.

Mr. Diamond uttered an odd, smothered kind of sound.

"Eh?" said Mrs. Errington, mellifluously.

There was no answer.

"Hulloa!" cried a blithe voice, as the door was suddenly thrown open.
"Why, you're all in the dark here!"

"Dear me!" exclaimed Mr. Diamond, jumping to his feet, and then sitting
down again, "I believe--I'm afraid I was almost asleep!"



CHAPTER II.


Algernon Errington came gaily into the dim room bringing with him a gust
of fresh, cold air. His first act was to stir the fire, which sent up a
flickering blaze. The light played upon the tea-table and the two
persons who sat at it; and also, of course, illuminated the new comer's
face and form, which were such as to justify much of his mother's pride
in his appearance. He was of middle height, with a singularly elegant
figure, and finely-shaped hands and feet. His smooth, blooming face was,
perhaps, somewhat too girlish-looking, but there was nothing effeminate
in his bearing. All his movements were springy and elastic. His blue
eyes--less large, but more bright than his mother's--were full of
vivacity, and a smile of mischievous merriment played round his mouth.

"Mr. Diamond!" he exclaimed, as soon as he perceived who was the other
occupant of the room besides his mother.

"You're late," said the tutor, pulling from his waistcoat-pocket a large
silver watch, and examining the clumsy black figures on its face by the
firelight.

"Why," said Algernon, "I had no idea you were here! I thought my mother
had sent word to ask you to put off our reading this evening. You
promised to write a note, mother. Didn't you send it?"

It appeared that Mrs. Errington had not sent a note, had not even
written one, had forgotten all about it. Her mind was so full of other
things! And then when Mr. Diamond appeared, she did not explain at once
that Algernon would probably not come home in time for his lesson,
because she wanted to have a little conversation with Mr. Diamond. And
they began to talk, and the time slipped away: besides, she knew that
Mr. Diamond had nothing to do of an evening, so it was not of much
consequence, was it?

Algernon winced at this speech, and cast a quick, furtive look at his
tutor, who, however, might have been deaf, for any sign he gave of
having heard it. He rose from his chair, and addressing Mrs. Errington,
declared with his usual brevity that, as no work was to be done, he must
forthwith wish her "Good evening."

"Now, no nonsense!" said Mrs. Errington. "You'll do nothing of the kind!
Stay and have a cup of tea with us for once in a way."

"Thank you, no; I never--it is not my habit----"

"Not your habit to be sociable! I know that; and it is a great pity.
What would you be doing at home? Only poring over books until you got a
headache! A little cheerful society would do you all the good in the
world. You were all but dropping asleep just now: and no wonder! I'm
sure, after teaching all day in a close school, full of boys buzzing
like so many blue-bottles, one would feel as stupid as an owl oneself!"

"Perhaps I am peculiarly susceptible to stupefying influences," said Mr.
Diamond, with a rueful shake of the head. And, as he spoke, there played
round his mouth the faint flicker of a smile.

"Now put your hat down, and take your seat!" cried Mrs. Errington,
authoritatively.

"I am very sorry to seem ungrateful, but----"

"I had asked little Rhoda to come up after tea and keep me company,
thinking I should be alone. But you won't mind Rhoda. She knows her
place."

Mr. Diamond paused in the act of buttoning his coat across his breast.
"You are very kind," he murmured.

"There, sit down, and I will undertake to give you a cup of excellent
tea. I hope you know good tea when you get it? There are some people who
couldn't tell my fine Pekoe from sloe-leaves. Algy, bring me the
kettle."

And Mrs. Errington betook herself to the business of making tea. To her
it seemed perfectly natural--almost a matter of course--that Matthew
Diamond should stay, since she was kind enough to press it. But
Algernon, who knew his tutor better, could not refrain from expressing a
little surprise at his yielding.

"Why, mother," said he, as he poured the boiling water into the tea-pot,
"you may consider yourself singled out for high distinction. Mr. Diamond
has consented at your request to stay after having said he would go! I
don't believe there's another lady in Whitford who has been so
honoured."

If Algernon had not been peering through the clouds of steam, to
ascertain whether the tea-pot were full or not, he would have perceived
an unwonted flush mount in Matthew Diamond's face up to the roots of his
hair, and then slowly fade away.

"And how did you find the doctor and all of them?" asked Mrs. Errington
of her son, when they were all seated at the tea-table.

"Oh, the doctor's all right. He only came in for a few minutes after
morning school."

"What did he say to you, Algy?"

"Oh, I don't know: something about not altogether neglecting my studies
now I had left school, whatever path in life I chose. He always says
that sort of thing, you know," answered Algernon carelessly.

"And Mrs. Bodkin?"

"Oh, she's all right, too."

"And Minnie?"

"Oh, she's all--no; she was not quite so well as usual, I think. Mrs.
Bodkin said she had had a bad attack of pain in the night. But Minnie
didn't mention it. She never likes to be condoled with and pitied, you
know. So of course I didn't say anything. It's so unpleasant to have to
keep noticing people's health!"

"Poor thing!" said Mrs. Errington. "What a misfortune for that girl to
be a helpless invalid for the rest of her life!"

"Is her disorder incurable?" asked Mr. Diamond.

"Oh, quite, I believe. Spine, you know. An accident. And they say that
when a child she was such an active creature."

"Her brain is active enough now," observed Mr. Diamond musingly, with
his eyes fixed on the fire. "I don't know a keener, quicker intellect."

"What, Minnie Bodkin?" exclaimed Algernon, pausing in the demolition of
a stout pile of sliced bread and butter. "I should think so! She's as
clever as a man! I mean," he added, reading and answering his tutor's
satirically-raised eyebrows, as rapidly as though he were replying to an
articulate observation, "I mean--of course I know she's a deuced deal
cleverer than lots of men. But I mean that Minnie Bodkin is clever after
a manly fashion. Not a bit Missish. By Jove! I wish I knew as much Greek
as she does!"

"I do not at all approve of blue-stockings in general," said Mrs.
Errington; "but in her case, poor thing, one must make allowances."

"I think she's pretty," announced Algernon, condescendingly.

"She would be if she didn't look so sickly. No complexion," said Mrs.
Errington, intently observing her own florid face, unnaturally
elongated, in the bowl of a spoon.

"Don't you think her pretty, sir?" asked Algernon, turning to Mr.
Diamond.

"A great deal more than pretty."

"You don't go there very often, I think?" said Mrs. Errington
interrogatively.

"No, madam."

"Well, now, you really ought. I know you would be welcome. The doctor
has more than once told me so. And Mrs. Bodkin is so very affable! I'm
sure you need not hesitate about going there."

Algernon jumped up to replenish the tea-pot, with an unnecessary amount
of bustle, and began to rattle out a volley of lively nonsense, with the
view of diverting his mother's attention from the subject of Mr.
Diamond's neglect of the Bodkin family. He dreaded some rejoinder on the
part of the tutor which should offend his mother beyond forgiveness. He
had had experience of some of Matthew Diamond's blunt speeches, of which
Dr. Bodkin himself was supposed to be in some awe. It was clearly no
business of Mrs. Errington's where Mr. Diamond chose to bestow his
visits; neither could she in any degree be aware what reasons he might
have for his conduct. "And the worst of it is, he's quite capable of
telling my mother so, if she goes too far," reflected Algernon. So he
chatted and laughed, as if from overflowing good spirits, until the
peril was past. This young gentleman was so quick and flexible, and had
so buoyant a temperament, that he was reputed more careless and
thoughtless than was altogether the case. His mind moved rapidly, and he
had an instinctive habit of uttering the result of its calculations, in
the most impulsive way imaginable. You could not tell, by observing
Algernon's manner, whether he were giving you his first thought or his
second.

When the meal was over, Mrs. Errington rang to have the table cleared. A
little prim servant-maid, in a coarse, clean apron and bib, appeared at
the sound of the bell, and began to gather the tea-things together.
Algernon sat down at the old harpsichord, and, after playing a few
chords, commenced singing softly in a pleasant tenor voice some
fragments of sentimental ballads in vogue at that day. (Does the reader
ask, "and when was 'that day?'" He must content himself with the
information that it was within a year or two of the year 1830.) Mr.
Diamond walked to the window, and holding aside the blind, stood looking
out at the dark sky.

All at once, when the servant opened the door to go out, there came up
from the lower part of the house the sound of singing; slow, long-drawn,
rather tuneless singing of a few voices, male and female.

"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Errington, "Oh dear me,
Sarah, how is this?"

Algernon made a comical face of disgust, and put his hands to his ears.

"It be as Mr. Powell's ha' come back, mum," said Sarah, with much
gravity.

"Really! Really!" said Mrs. Errington, in the tone of one protesting
against an utterly unjustifiable offence.

"Come back! Where has he been?" asked Algernon, carelessly.

"On 'is rounds, please, sir."

"I do wish Mr. Powell would choose some other time for his
performances!" cried Mrs. Errington, when the servant had left the room.
"Now Thursday--on Thursday, for instance, we are going to a whist party,
at the Bodkins', and then he might squall out his psalms, and shout,
and rave, without annoying anybody."

"He'd only annoy the neighbours," said Algernon, "and that wouldn't
matter!"

He was smiling with a sort of contemptuous amusement, and touching
random notes here and there on the harpsichord with one finger.

"There will be no getting Rhoda upstairs to-night," said Mrs. Errington.
"Poor little thing! she's in for a whole evening of psalm-singing."

Algernon rose from the instrument with a clouded brow. His face wore the
petulant look of a spoiled child, whose will has been unexpectedly
crossed.

"Deuce take Mr. Powell, and all Welsh Methodists like him!" said he.

"My dear Algy! No, no; I cannot approve of that, though Mr. Powell is a
Dissenter. Besides, such language in my presence is not respectful."

"Beg pardon, ma'am," said Algernon, laughing. And with the laughter, the
cloud cleared from his brow. Clouds never rested there long.

"Will you have a game of cribbage with me, Mr. Diamond? This naughty boy
will scarcely ever play with me. Or, if you prefer it, dummy whist----?"

"No whist for me," interposed Algernon, decisively. "It is such a
botheration. And I play so atrociously that it would be cruel to ask
Mr. Diamond to sit down with me."

With that he returned to the harpsichord, and began singing softly to
himself in snatches.

"Cribbage then?" said Mrs. Errington in her mellow, measured tones.

Mr. Diamond let fall the blind from his hand so roughly that the wooden
roller rattled against the wainscot, and advanced to the table where
Mrs. Errington was already setting forth the cards and cribbage-board.
He sat down without a word, cut the cards as she directed, shuffled,
dealt, and played in a moody sort of silent manner; which, however, did
not affect Mrs. Errington's nerves at all.

Meanwhile, there went on beneath Algernon's love-songs and the few
utterances of the players which the game necessitated, a kind of
accompanying "bourdon" of voices from downstairs. Sometimes one single
voice would rise in passionate tones, almost as if in wrath. Then came
singing again, which, softened by distance, had a wild, wailing
character of ineffable melancholy. Algernon paused in his fitful playing
and singing, as though unwilling to be in dissonance with those
long-drawn sounds. Mrs. Errington calmly continued to exclaim, "Fifteen
six," and "two for his heels," without regard to anything but her game.

When the rubber was at an end, Mr. Diamond rose to take his leave.

He lingered a little in doing so. He lingered in taking up his hat, and
in buttoning his coat across his breast.

"Have you not anything warmer to put on?" said Mrs. Errington. "Dear me,
it is very wrong to go out of this snug room into the air--and the wind
has got up, too!--with no more wrap than you have been sitting in, here
by the fire! Algy, lend him your great-coat."

"Thank you, no. Good night," said the tutor, and walked off without
further ceremony.

He still lingered, however, in descending the stairs; and yet more in
passing the door of a parlour, whence came a murmur of voices. Finally,
he let himself out at the street-door, and encountering a bleak gust of
wind, set off down the silent street at a round pace.

"What a fool you are, Matthew!" was his mental ejaculation, as he strode
along with his head bent down, and his gloveless hands plunged deep into
his pockets.



CHAPTER III.


Mrs. Errington had lodged in Mr. Maxfield's house ever since she first
came to Whitford. Jonathan Maxfield, commonly called "Old Max," kept a
general shop in that town. The shop was underneath Mrs. Errington's
sitting-room, and the great bow window, of which mention has been made,
jutted out beyond the shop front, and overhung the street. The house was
old, and larger than it appeared from the street, running back some
distance. There was a private entrance--a point much insisted upon by
Mr. Maxfield's sister-in-law and housekeeper in letting the lodgings to
Mrs. Errington--and a long passage divided the shop entirely from the
dwelling rooms on the ground-floor.

Old Max was reported to be somewhat of a miser (which report he rather
encouraged than the reverse, finding that it had its conveniences), and
to have amassed a large sum of money for one in his position in life.

"Old Max!" Whitford people would say. "Why, old Max could buy up half
the town. Old Max might retire to-morrow. Old Max has no need ever to
stand behind a counter again."

Old Max, however, continued to stand behind his counter day after day,
as he had done for the last thirty or forty years, and would serve a
child with a pennyworth of gingerbread, or a rich man's cook with stores
of bacon and flour, in an impartially crabbed manner.

He was a grey man: grey from head to foot. He had grey hair, closely
cropped; twinkling grey eyes; and a grey stubble on his shaven chin. He
usually wore a suit of coarse grey clothes, with black calico sleeves
tied on at the elbow. But even these had an iron-grey hue, from being
more or less dusted with flour; as, indeed, were all his garments, and
even his face.

When Mrs. Errington first came to live in Whitford, Jonathan Maxfield
was a widower for the second time. He had two sons by his first wife;
and, by his second, one daughter, whose birth cost her mother's life.
The sister of his first wife had kept house for him ever since his
second widowhood. This woman, Betty Grimshaw by name, had been servant
in a great family; and at her master's death had received a legacy,
which, together with her own savings, had sufficed to purchase a small
annuity. She had been able to lay by the greater part of her annuity
since she had lived in Whitford, and announced her intention of
bequeathing her savings to her nephew James, Maxfield's second son. The
elder son had married a farmer's daughter with some money, and turned
farmer himself within a few miles of Whitford. Thus the family living at
home on the autumn night on which our story opens, consisted of Jonathan
Maxfield, Betty Grimshaw his sister-in-law, his son James, and his
daughter Rhoda.

The sound of the street-door closing violently behind Mr. Diamond,
startled this family party assembled in the parlour, together with Mr.
David Powell, Methodist preacher.

They were all seated at a table, on which lay hymn-books and a large
bible. Old Maxfield sat nearest to the fire, in his grey suit, just as
he appeared in his shop, except that the black calico sleeves had been
removed from his coat. He had a harsh face, a harsh voice, and a harsh
manner. So much could be observed by any who exchanged ten words with
him.

Next to him, on his left hand, sat his son James, a tall, sickly-looking
young man, of six-and-twenty. He had a stoop in the shoulders, a pale
face, with high cheek-bones, eyes deeply set, light eyebrows, which grew
in thick irregular tufts, and hair of a reddish flaxen colour. There was
a certain family likeness between him and his aunt, Mrs. Grimshaw, as
she was called in Whitford, despite her spinsterhood. She too was tall,
bony, and hard-featured; with a face which looked as if it had been
painted and varnished, and reminded one, in its colour and texture, of
those hollow wooden pears, full of tiny playthings, which used to
be--and probably still are--sold at country fairs, and in toy-shops of a
humble kind.

The preacher sat next to Betty Grimshaw. He seemed to belong to a
different order of beings from the three persons already described.

A striking face this--dark, and full of fire. He had sharply-cut,
handsome features, and eyes that seemed to blaze with inward light when
he spoke earnestly. His raven-black hair was worn long, and fell
straight on to his collar. But although this made his aspect strange, it
could not render it either vulgar or ludicrous. The black locks set off
his pale dark face, as in a frame of ebony. He was young, and seemed
vigorous, though rather with nervous energy than muscular strength.

The last person in the group was Rhoda Maxfield--"little Rhoda," as Mrs.
Errington had called her. But the epithet had been used to express
rather her social insignificance, than her physical proportions. Rhoda
was, in fact, rather tall. She was about nineteen years old, but
scarcely looked her age. She had a broad and beautiful brow, on which
the rich chestnut hair was smoothly parted; a sensitive mouth, not
over-small; and bright hazel eyes, which looked out on the world with an
open gaze, that was at once timid and confiding. Her skin was of
remarkable delicacy, with a faint flush on the cheeks, which came and
went frequently.

And yet Rhoda Maxfield was not much admired among her own compeers.
There was something in her face which did not please the taste of the
vulgar. And although, if you had asked Whitford persons "Is not Rhoda
Maxfield wonderfully pretty?" most of those so addressed would have
answered, "Yes, Rhoda is a pretty girl;" yet the assent would probably
have been cold and uncertain.

Rhoda, at nineteen years old, had never been known to have a sweetheart.
And this fact militated against the popular appreciation of her beauty;
for a very cursory observation of the world will suffice to show that on
the score of good looks, as on most other subjects, public opinion is
apt to find nothing successful but success.

"What a wind there must be, to make the door bang like that!" exclaimed
Betty Grimshaw, when the loud sound above recorded reached her ears.

"Who went out?" asked James.

"I suppose it would be that Mr. Diamond, the schoolmaster," replied his
aunt.

They both spoke in a subdued voice, and cast furtive glances at Mr.
Maxfield, as though fearful of being reprehended for interrupting the
evening devotions; but, as they spoke, he closed his hymn-book, and drew
his chair away from the table towards the fireside. Upon this signal,
Betty Grimshaw rose and bustled out of the room, declaring that she must
see about getting the supper; for that that little Sarah could never be
trusted to see to the roasted potatoes alone. There was a suspicious
alacrity in Betty's departure, suggestive that she experienced some
sense of relief at the breaking-up of the devotions. James soon
sauntered out of the room after his aunt. Mr. Powell rose.

"Good night," said he, holding out his hand to the old man.

"Nay; won't you stay and eat with us, Brother Powell? The supper will be
ready directly."

Mr. Powell shook his head. "You know I never eat supper," he said,
smiling.

"Well, well; perhaps you're in the right," responded old Max, very
readily.

"And I am not clear," continued the preacher, "but that it would be
better for you to leave off the habit."

"Me? Oh, no! I need it for my health's sake."

"But would it not suit your health better, to take your supper early?
Say at six o'clock or so; so that you should not go to bed with a full
stomach."

"No; it wouldn't," answered the old man, crabbedly.

David Powell stood meditating, with his hand to his chin. "I am not
clear about it," he murmured. But Maxfield either did not hear, or chose
to ignore the words.

"Father, may I go upstairs to Mrs. Errington?" asked Rhoda, softly; "I
don't want any supper."

The old man grunted out an inarticulate sound, and seemed to hesitate.
"Go upstairs to Mrs. Errington?" he said, answering his daughter, but
looking sideways at the preacher. "Let's see; you promised, didn't you?"

"Yes; you gave me leave, and I promised before--before we knew that Mr.
Powell would come to-night."

Rhoda was gifted with a sweet voice by nature, and she spoke with a
purer accent, and expressed herself with greater propriety, than the
other members of her family. Mrs. Errington had amused herself with
teaching the motherless girl, who had been a lonely, shy, little child
when their acquaintance first began. And Rhoda was a quick and apt
scholar.

"Well--a promise--I can't have you break your word. Don't you stay late,
mind. Not one minute after ten o'clock; do you mind, Rhoda?"

Rhoda, with a bright smile of pleasure on her face, promised to obey,
and left the room with a step which it cost her an effort to make as
staid as she knew would be approved by her father and Mr. Powell. When
she got outside the door, they heard her run along the passage as light
and as swift as a greyhound.

Maxfield turned to Mr. Powell, with a little constrained, apologetic
air, and began expatiating on Mrs. Errington's fondness for Rhoda; and
how kind she had always been to the girl; and how he thought it a duty
almost, to let the good, widowed lady have as much of Rhoda's company as
she could give her without neglecting duties.

"Betty Grimshaw is a worthy woman," he observed, drily; "but no
companion for my Rhoda. Rhoda features her mother, and has her mother's
nature very much."

Mr. Powell still stood in the same meditative attitude, with his hand to
his chin.

"This Mrs. Errington is unconverted?" he said, without raising his eyes.

"Oh, Rhoda won't take much harm from that!"

"Much harm?" The dark lustrous eyes were upraised now, and fixed
searchingly on the old man.

"Well, it won't do her any harm," the latter answered, testily. "I know
Rhoda; and I have her welfare at heart, as, I suppose, you'll believe.
I don't know who should have, if it isn't me!"

"Brother Maxfield," said the preacher, earnestly, "are you sure that you
have a clear leading in this matter? Have you prayed for one?"

Maxfield shifted in his chair, and made no answer.

"Oh, consider what you do in trusting that tender soul among worldlings!
I do not say that these are wicked people in a carnal sense; but are
they such as can edify or strengthen a young girl like Rhoda, who is
still in a seeking state, and has not yet that blessed assurance which
we all supplicate for her?"

"I have laid the matter before the Lord," said Maxfield, almost
sullenly.

Powell was silent for a minute, standing with his hands forcibly clasped
together, as though to control them from vehement action, and when next
he spoke, his voice had a tone in it which told of a strong effort of
will to keep it in subdued monotony.

"Then, have you thought of it?" said he; "there is the young man
Algernon."

"What of Algernon?" cried Maxfield, turning sharply to face the
preacher.

"He is fair to look upon, and specious, and has those graces and talents
which the world accounts lovely. May there not be a snare here for
Rhoda? She who is so alive to all beauty and graciousness in God's
world, and in God's creatures--may it not be very perilous for her to be
thrown unguardedly into the society of this youth?"

Maxfield looked into the fire instead of at Powell, as he said, "What
has been putting this into your head?"

"I have had a call to say it to you, for some time past. Before I went
away this summer it was on my mind. I sinned in resisting the call,
for--for reasons which matter to no one but myself. I sinned in putting
any human reasons above my Master's service."

"It may be as you would have done better to resist speaking now," said
Maxfield, slowly. "It may be as it was rather a temptation, than a
leading from Heaven, made you speak at all."

Powell started back as if he had been struck. The blood rushed into his
face, and then, suddenly receding, left him paler than before. But he
answered after a moment in a low, sweet voice, and without a trace of
anger, "You cannot mistrust me more than I mistrusted myself. But I have
wrestled and prayed; and I am assured that I have spoken this thing with
a single heart."

"Well, well, well, it may be as you say," said Maxfield, a shade less
harshly than he had spoken before. "But you have neither wife, nor
daughter, nor sister, and you cannot understand these matters as well as
I do, who am more than double your years, and have had the guidance of
this young maid from a baby upward."

"Nay," answered Powell, humbly; "it is not my own wisdom I am uttering!
God forbid that I should set up my carnal judgment against a man of your
years."

"That's very well said--very rightly said!" exclaimed Maxfield, nodding
twice or thrice.

"Aye, but I must speak when my conscience bids me. I dare not resist
that admonition for any human respect."

"Why, to be sure! But do you think yours is the only conscience to be
listened to? I tell you I follow mine, young man. And you can ask any of
our brethren here in Whitford, who have known me for the last thirty or
forty years, whether I have gone far astray!"

Powell sighed wearily. "I have released my soul," he said.

"And just hearken," pursued old Maxfield, in a lowered voice, "don't say
a word of this sort to Rhoda--nay, don't interrupt me! I've listened to
your say, now let me have mine--because you might be putting something
into her thoughts that wouldn't have come there of itself. And keep a
discreet tongue before Betty and James. 'Least said, soonest mended.'
And I'll tell you something more. If--observe I say 'if'--I saw that
Rhoda's heart was strongly set upon anything, anything as wasn't wrong
in itself, I should be very loath to thwart her."

David Powell turned a startled, attentive face on the old man, who
proceeded with a sort of dogged monotony of voice and manner: "Christian
charity teaches us there's good folks in all communions of believers.
And there's different ranks and different orders in the world; some has
one thing, and some has another. Some has fine family and great
connections among the rulers of the land. Others has the goods of this
world earned by honesty, and diligence, and frugality; and these three
bring a blessing. Some is fitted to be gentlefolks by nature, let 'em be
born where they will. Others, like my sister-in-law Betty, is born to
serve. We are all the Lord's creatures, and we are in his hand but as
clay in the hands of the potter. But there's different kinds of clay,
you know. This kind is good for making coarse delf, and that kind is fit
for fine porcelain. We'll just keep these words as have passed between
you and me, to ourselves, if you please. And now, I I think, we may drop
the subject."

"May the Lord give you his counsel!" said Powell, in a broken voice.

"Amen! I have had my share of wisdom, and have walked pretty straight
for the last half century, thanks be to Him," observed old Max, drily.

"If it were His good pleasure, how gladly would I cease for evermore
from speaking to you on this theme! But it matters nothing what I desire
or shrink from. I must deliver my Master's message when it is borne in
upon me to do so."

And with a solemnly uttered blessing on the household, the preacher
departed.

The master of the house sat thinking, alone by his fireside. He began by
thinking that he had a little over-encouraged David Powell. Maxfield
considered praise from himself to be very encouraging, and calculated to
uplift the heart. When Powell had first come among the Whitford
Methodists, old Max had taken him by the hand, and had declared him to
be the most awakening preacher they had had for many years. He was never
tired of vaunting Powell's zeal, and diligence, and eloquence.
Backsliders were brought again into the right way, sinners were
awakened, believers were refreshed, under his ministry. The fame of
Powell's preaching drew many unwonted auditors to the little chapel; and
of those who came at first merely from curiosity, many were moved by his
words to join the Wesleyan Connection. On all this Jonathan Maxfield
looked with great satisfaction. The young man had been truly a burning
and a shining light.

But now--might it not be that the preacher's heart had become puffed up
with spiritual pride? Was he not unduly exalting himself, when he
assumed a tone of censorship towards such a pillar of the community as
Jonathan Maxfield? The old man had been for many years accustomed to
much deference, alike from preachers and congregation. The exhortations
and admonitions which were doubtless needful for his neighbours, were
entirely out of place when addressed to himself. His piety and probity
were established on a rock. And the Lord had, moreover, seen fit to gift
him with so large a share of the wisdom of the serpent, as had enabled
him to hold his own, and to thrive in the midst of worldlings. A dull
fire of indignation against David Powell began to smoulder in the old
man's heart, as he pondered these things.

Other thoughts, too, more or less disquieting, passed through his brain.
He thought of Rhoda's mother--of that second wife whom he, a man past
middle-life, had married for her fair young face and gentle ways, much
to Betty Grimshaw's disgust, and the surprise of most people. He looked
back on the long, dusty, dreary road of his life; and, in the whole
landscape, the only spot on which the sun seemed to shine was that brief
year of his second marriage. Not that he had been, or that he now was,
an unhappy man. His life had satisfactions in it of a sober, sombre
kind. He did not grow soft or sentimental in reviewing the past. He was
accustomed to the chill, grey atmosphere in which he lived. But he had
felt warm sunlight once, and remembered it. And he had a
notion--inarticulate, indeed, and vague--that Rhoda needed more light
and warmth in her life than was necessary for his own existence, or for
James's, or Betty Grimshaw's, or, in fact, for most people's. There was
no amount of hardness he could not be guilty of to "most people," and,
indeed, he was hard enough to himself; but for Rhoda there was a soft
place in his heart.

Nevertheless, there were many hopes, fears, speculations, and
reflections connected with Rhoda just now, which had anything but a
softening effect on Mr. Maxfield's demeanour; insomuch that Betty and
James, coming in presently to supper, found the head of the family in so
crabbed a temper, that they were glad to hurry through the meal in
silence, and slink off to bed.



CHAPTER IV.


Mention has been made of a whist-party at Dr. Bodkin's, to which Mrs.
Errington announced her intention of going. It took place on the
Thursday after that evening on which Mrs. Errington was first introduced
to the reader: that is to say, on the second night following.

Whist-parties were almost the only social entertainment ever given
amongst the genteel persons in Whitford. The Rev. Cyrus Bodkin, D.D.,
liked his rubber; so did Robert Smith, Esq., M.R.C.S., and Mr. Dockett,
the attorney, and Miss Chubb, and one or two more cronies, who were
frequently seen at the doctor's green card-tables.

The Bodkins lived in a gloomy stone house adjoining the grammar-school,
of which, indeed, it formed part. The house was approached by a
gravelled courtyard, surrounded by high stone walls. The garden at the
back ran sloping down to a broad green meadow, which in turn was
bounded by the little river Whit, all overhung with willows, and covered
by a floating mass of broad water-lily leaves, just opposite the
doctor's garden gate.

In the full summer time, the view from the back of the house was pretty
and pastoral enough. But in autumn and winter the meadow was a swamp,
whose vivid green looked poisonous--as indeed it was, exhaling ague and
rheumatism from its plashy surface--and a white brooding mist trailed
itself, morning and evening, along the sluggish Whit, like a fallen
cloud, condemned by some angry prince of the air to crawl serpent-like
on earth, instead of soaring and sailing in the empyrean.

Such fancies never came into Doctor Bodkin's head, however, nor into his
wife's either--good, anxious, unselfish, sad, little woman! Into his
daughter Minnie's brain all sorts of wild, fantastic notions would
intrude as she lay on her sofa, looking out upon the garden, and the
river, and the meadow, and the gnarled old willows, and the flying scud
in the sky; but she very seldom spoke of her fancies to any one. She
spoke of other matters, though, freely enough. She had many visitors,
who came and sat around her couch, or beside the lounging-chair, on
which, on her good days, she reclined. She was better acquainted with
the news of Whitford than most of the people who could use their limbs
to go abroad and see what was passing. She was interested in the
progress of the boys at the grammar-school, and knew the names, and a
good deal about the characters, of every one of them. She would chat,
and laugh, and joke by the hour with the frequenters of her father's
house; but of herself--of her own thoughts, feelings, and
fancies--Minnie Bodkin said no word to them. Nor did she, in truth, ever
speak much on that subject all her life. And there were days--black days
in the calendar of her poor anxious little mother--when Minnie would
remain shut into her room, refusing to see or speak with anyone, and
suffering much pain of body, with a proud stoicism which rejected
sympathy like a wall of granite.

There is no suggestion of granite about her now, however, as she lies,
propped up by crimson cushions, on a sofa in her father's drawing-room.
The room is bright and warm, despite the white kraken of mist that is
coiled around the outer walls of the house. Wax-lights shine in tall,
old-fashioned silver candlesticks on the mantelpiece, and on the centre
table, and on a pianoforte, beside which stands a canterbury full of
music-books. A great fire blazes in the grate, and makes its immediate
neighbourhood too hot for the comfort of most people. But Minnie is apt
to be chilly, and loves the heat. Some delicate ferns and hothouse
plants adorn a stand between the windows. They are rather a rare luxury
in Whitford; but Minnie loves flowers, and always has some choice ones
about her. A still rarer luxury hangs on the wall opposite to her sofa,
in the shape of a very fine copy--on a reduced scale--of Raphael's
Madonna di San Sisto. Minnie had fallen in love with a print from that
famous picture long ago, and the copy was procured for her at
considerable pains and expense. The furniture of the room is of crimson
and dark oak. Minnie delights in rich colours and picturesque
combinations. In a word, there is not an inch of the apartment, from
floor to ceiling, in the arrangement of which Minnie's tastes have not
been consulted, and in which traces of Minnie's influence are not
plainly to be seen by those who know that household.

Minnie has a face, which, if you saw it represented in time-darkened oil
colours, and framed on the walls of a picture-gallery, you would
pronounce strikingly beautiful. Such faces are sometimes seen in flesh
and blood, and, strange to say, do by no means excite the same
enthusiasm in ordinary beholders, who, for the most part, like the
picturesque in a picture and nowhere else; and who, to paraphrase what
was said of Voltaire's intellect, admire chiefly those women who have,
more than other young ladies, the prettiness which all young ladies
have.

Minnie's face is pale and rather sallow. Her skin is not transparent,
but fine in texture, like fine vellum, and it seldom changes its hue
from emotion. When it does, it grows dark-red or deadly-white. Pleasing
blushes or pallors are never seen on it. She has dark, thick hair, worn
short, and brushed away from a high, smooth, rounded forehead, in which
shine a pair of bright brown eyes, under finely-arched eyebrows. But the
beauty of the face lies in the perfection of its outlines: brow, cheeks,
and chin are alike delicately moulded; her mouth--although the lips are
too pale--is almost faultless, as are the white, small teeth she shows
when she smiles. There is an indefinable air of sickness and suffering
over this beautiful face, and dark traces beneath the eyes, and a
pathetic, weary look in them sometimes; but, when she speaks or smiles,
you forget all that.

There are people in this world whose intellects remind one of lamps too
scantily supplied with oil. The little feeble flame in them burns and
flickers, certainly, but it is but a dull sort of dead light after all.
Now Minnie Bodkin's spirit-lamp, if the phrase may be permitted,
illumined everything it shone upon, and there were some persons who
found it a great deal too dazzling to be pleasant.

It is not at all too bright at this moment for Algernon Errington, who,
seated close beside her couch, is giving her, sotto voce, a humorous
imitation of the psalm-singing in old Max's parlour; and describing,
with great relish, his mother's cool suggestion that the family prayers
should be put off until she should be absent at a whist-party.

"Poor dear mother," says Algernon, smiling, "she can't forget that she
is an Ancram; and sometimes comes out with one of her grande dame
speeches, as if she were addressing my grandfather's Warwickshire
tenantry forty years ago!" At which simple, candid words Minnie shoots
out a queer, keen glance at the young fellow from under her eyelids.

"And the Methodist preacher--what is he like?" she asks. "Whitford is,
or was, a little inclined to go crazed about him. I don't know whether
the enthusiasm is burning itself out, as such fires of straw will do,
but a few weeks ago I heard that the little Wesleyan chapel was crowded
to overflowing whenever he preached; and that once or twice, when he
addressed the people out of doors on Whit Meadow, there was such a
multitude as never was seen there before. I was quite curious to see the
man who could so move our sluggish Whitfordians."

Algernon had taken up a sheet of note-paper and a pen from Minnie's
letter-writing table, whilst she was speaking. "Look here," he says,
"here's the preacher!" And he holds out the paper on which he has
drawn, with a few rapid strokes, a caricature of David Powell.

Minnie looks at it with raised eyebrows.

"Oh," says she, "is he like that? I am disappointed. This is the common,
conventional, long-haired Methodist, that one sees in every comic
print."

And in truth Algernon's portrait is not a good likeness, even for a
caricature. He had drawn a lank, hook-nosed man, with long, black hair,
expressed by two blots of ink falling on either side of his face.

"He wears his hair just like that!" says Algy, contemplating his own
work with a good deal of satisfaction.

The card playing has not yet begun. Mrs. Bodkin, small, thin, with a
questioning, sharp, little nose, and a chin which narrows off too
suddenly, and an odd resemblance altogether to a little melancholy fox,
is presiding at a tea-table. Besides tea and coffee, it is furnished
with substantial cakes of many various kinds. Whitford people, for the
most part, dine early, so that they are ready for solid food again by
about eight o'clock; and will, probably, sustain nature once more with
sandwiches and mulled wine before they sleep.

It is not a large party. There is Mrs. Errington, majestic in a dyed
silk, and a real lace cap, the latter a relic of the "better days" she
is fond of reverting to; Miss Chubb, a stout spinster, with a
languishing fat face as round as a full moon, and little rings of hair
gummed down all over her forehead, and half-way down her plump cheeks;
Mr. Smith, the surgeon, black-eyed, red-faced, and smiling; the Rev.
Peter Warlock, curate of St. Chad's, a serious, ghoul-like young man,
who rends great bits out of his muffin with his teeth, in a way to make
you shudder if you happen to be nervous or fanciful; Mr. Dockett, the
attorney, and his wife, each dressed in black, each with a huge double
chin and smothered voice, and altogether comically like one another.

On the hearth-rug, with his back to the fire, and his coffee-cup in his
hand, stands Dr. Bodkin. He is short and thick. He has an air of
command. He looks at the world in general as if it were liable to an
"imposition" of ever so many hundred lines of Latin poetry, and as if he
were ready to enforce the penalty at brief notice. He is not a hard man
at heart, but nature has made him conceited, and habit has made him a
tyrant. The boys kotoo to him in the school, and his wife bends
submissively to his will at home. There is only one person in the world
who habitually opposes and sets aside his assumption of infallibility,
and that person--his daughter Minnie--he loves and fears. He tramples on
most other people, in the firm persuasion that it is for their good. He
is bald, large-faced, with a long upper-lip, which he shoots out into a
funnel shape when he talks. He is an honest man in his calling, has a
fair share of routine learning, and imparts it laboriously to the boys
under his tuition.

Presently the people seem to slacken in eating and drinking. "Another
cup of tea, Mrs. Errington? Won't you try any of that pound cake, Mr.
Warlock?" (N.B. He has eaten three muffins unassisted; but they do not
prosper with him. He has a hungry glare.) "Mrs. Dockett? No?" Mrs.
Bodkin looks round, and lifts her meek, foxy little nose interrogatively
at each member of the circle. No one will eat or drink more. The doctor
prepares to make up the tables.

The card-tables are always set out in an inner drawing-room, adjoining
that in which our friends are taking tea. Dr. Bodkin hates to hear any
noise when he is at his rubber, so there are thick curtains before the
door of communication between the two rooms; and the door is shut, and
the curtains drawn, whenever Minnie desires to have music on whist
evenings.

The sound of the piano penetrates to the card-players, nevertheless. But
Mrs. Bodkin declares that she can never hear a note, when she is in the
little drawing-room, with the door shut, and the curtains drawn. And
although the doctor wears a frown on his bald forehead, and is more
than ordinarily severe on his partner whenever the piano begins to sound
during a game, yet he never takes any step to have the instrument
silenced.

The players file off in the wake of the host. There is a quartet at the
doctor's table. At another, Mrs. Dockett, Mrs. Warlock, and Mr. Smith
play dummy. Algernon Errington hates cards, and--naturally--doesn't
play. The Rev. Peter Warlock also hates cards, but is wanted to make up
the rubber, and--naturally--plays. Mrs. Bodkin hovers between the two
rooms, and Minnie and Algernon are left almost tête-à-tête.

"And so you really, really think of going to London?" says Minnie
gravely.

"To seek my fortune!" answers Algernon, with a smile. "Turn a-gain,
Er-ring-ton--I don't know why that shouldn't be rung out on Bow Bells.
You see my name has the same number of syllables as Whit-ting-ton! I
declare that is a good omen!"

"Whittington made himself useful to the cook, and took care of his
kitten. I wonder what you will do, Algy, to deserve fortune?"

"Do you think fortune favours the deserving? They paint her as a woman!"
cries Master Algernon, with a saucy grimace.

"Algy, I like you. We are old chums. Have you considered this step? Have
you any reasonable prospect of making your way, if you refuse the
Bristol man's proposition."

Minnie seldom speaks so earnestly as she is speaking now; still seldomer
volunteers any inquiry into other people's affairs. Algernon is sensible
of the distinction, and flattered by it. He forthwith proceeds to lay
his hopes and plans before her; that is to say, he talks a great deal
with astonishing candour and fluency, and says wonderfully little. His
mother is so anxious; these Seeleys are her people. It would vex the
dear old lady so terribly, if he were to prefer the Bristol side of the
house! Though, perhaps, that would be, selfishly speaking, the right
policy.

"Ah, I see!" exclaims Minnie, sinking back among her cushions when he
has done speaking.

By-and-by, one or two more guests drop in: young Pawkins, of Pudcombe
Hall, some six miles from Whitford; Lieutenant-Colonel Whistler, on
half-pay, with his two nieces, Rose and Violet McDougall; and with them
Alethea Dockett, who is still a day-boarder at a girls' school in
Whitford, and has been spending the afternoon with the Misses McDougall.
The latter young ladies never play whist. Little Ally Dockett sometimes
takes a hand, if need be, and acquits herself not discreditably; but
sixteen rushes in where two-and-thirty fears to tread. Rose and Violet
are on the doubtful border-land of life, and keep up a brisk
skirmishing warfare with their enemy, Time. They would not give that
wily old traitor the triumph of putting themselves at a whist-table
for--for anything short of a bonâ fide offer of marriage, with a good
settlement.

All those guests Minnie receives very graciously, with a sort of royal
condescension. She is quite unconscious that the Misses McDougall (of
whose intelligence she has, truth to say, a disdainful estimate) are
alive to the fact that she thinks them fools, and that they take a good
deal of credit to themselves for bearing with her airs, poor thing! But
then she is so afflicted!

"Oh, Minnie, what's that? Do let me see! Is it one of your caricatures,
you wicked thing?" cries Rose, darting on the portrait of David Powell.

"It's better drawn than Minnie can do," says Violet, with an air of
having evidence wrung from her on oath.

"It may be that, and yet not very good," answers Minnie carelessly. "Mr.
Errington has been trying to give me an idea of some one I've never
seen, and probably never shall see."

"It's the Methodist preacher, by Jove!" says young Pawkins with his
glass in his eye. "I heard him and saw him last summer on Whit Meadow."

Colonel Whistler, after holding the paper out at the utmost stretch of
his arm, solemnly puts on a pair of gold spectacles and examines it.

"Monstrous good!" he pronounces. "Very well, Errington! That's just the
cut of that kind of fellow."

"Have you seen him, colonel?" asks Minnie.

"No--no; I can't say I have seen him. Don't like these irregular
practitioners, Miss Minnie. But I know the sort of fellow. That's just
the cut of 'em!"

"I wish I could draw, Miss Bodkin," says a voice behind Minnie at the
head of the sofa; "I would show you a better likeness of the man than
that!"

Minnie puts her thin white hand over her shoulder to the new comer, whom
she cannot see. "Mr. Diamond!" she exclaims very softly.

"How can you tell?"

"I know your voice."



CHAPTER V.


The little group round Minnie's sofa dispersed as Mr. Diamond came
forward. He was barely known by sight to most of them, and merely bowed
gravely and shyly, without speaking.

"Who's that?" asked Colonel Whistler, in a loud whisper, of his eldest
niece. "Eh? oh! ah! second master--yes, yes, yes; to be sure!" And the
gallant gentleman walked off to the card-room, and joined the party at
Mrs. Dockett's table, where there was a vacant place. It must be owned
that the colonel's appearance was by no means rapturously hailed there.
He was a notoriously bad player. Fate, however, allotted him as a
partner to Mr. Warlock. Mrs. Dockett and Mr. Smith exchanged glances of
satisfaction, and the gloom on Mr. Warlock's brow perceptibly deepened
as the colonel, polite, smiling, and eager for the fray, took his seat
opposite to that clerical victim.

"Algy, give Mr. Diamond your chair," said Miss Bodkin. It was in this
imperious manner that she occasionally addressed her young friend. In
her eyes he was still a school-boy. And then she was four years his
senior, and had been a young woman grown when he was still playing
marbles and munching toffy.

Algy by no means considered himself a school-boy, but he had excellent
tact and temper. He rose directly, shook hands with his tutor, and then
standing opposite to Minnie, put his knuckles to his forehead, after the
fashion in vogue amongst rustic children by way of salute, and said
meekly, "Yes'm, please'm."

Minnie laughed. "You don't mind, do you, Algernon?" she said, looking up
at him.

"Not at all, Miss Bodkin. You have merely cast another blight over my
young existence. I am growing to look like the reverend Peter, in
consequence of your ill-usage. Don't you perceive a ghastly hue upon my
brow? No? Ah, well, you would if you had any feeling. Here, let me put
this cushion better for you. Will that do?"

"Capitally, thanks. And, look here, Algy; I can't bear any music
to-night, so will you get mamma to set the McDougalls down to a round
game? And play yourself, there's a good boy!"

"Oh, Minnie, you ought to have been Mrs. Nero. There never was such a
tyrant. Well, Pawkins and I must make ourselves agreeable, I suppose.
For England, home, and beauty--here goes!" And Algernon speedily had the
two Miss McDougalls, and Mr. Pawkins, and Alethea Dockett engaged in a
game of vingt-et-un--played in a very infantine manner by the
first-named ladies, and with a good deal of business-like gravity by
little Alethea, who liked to win.

Mr. Diamond looked at the group with his hand over his mouth, after his
habit.

"Isn't he a nice fellow?" asked Minnie, watching Mr. Diamond's face
curiously.

"Errington?"

"Of course!"

"Very."

"But now, tell me--do sit down here; I want to talk to you. You come so
seldom. I wonder why you came to-night?"

"I chanced to meet Mrs. Bodkin in the street, and she asked me so
pressingly--she is so good!"

Minnie's face wore a pained look. "It is a pity mamma should have teased
you," she said, in a low voice.

Matthew Diamond took no notice of the words. Perhaps he did not hear
them. "I am not fit to go to evening parties," he continued. "The very
wax-lights dazzle me. I feel like a bat or an owl."

"Too wise for your company, that means!"

"How can you say so? No: I assure you I was compared to an owl the other
evening by a lady, and I felt the justice of the comparison."

"By a lady! What lady?"

Mr. Diamond smiled a little amused smile at the authoritative tone of
the question. Minnie did not see it. She was leaning her elbow on a
cushion, and had her face turned towards Mr. Diamond; but her eyes,
which usually looked out, open and unabashed, were half veiled by their
lids.

"The lady was Mrs. Errington," answered the tutor, after a moment's
pause.

"She called you an owl? That eagle? Well, she has this aquiline quality;
I believe she could stare the sun himself out of countenance!"

"You were asking me to tell you----" said Mr. Diamond.

"To tell me----? Oh, yes; about the Methodist preacher. That caricature
is not like him, you say?"

"Not at all. It is a vulgar conception of the man."

"And the man is not vulgar? I am glad of that! Tell me about him."

Matthew Diamond had heard the preacher more than once. The first time
had been by chance on Whit Meadow. The other times were in the crowded,
close Wesleyan chapel, into which he had penetrated at the cost of a
good deal of personal inconvenience, so greatly had Powell's eloquence
impressed him.

"The man is like a flame of fire," he said. "It is wonderful! He must be
like Garrick, according to the descriptions I have heard. And, then,
this fellow is so handsome--wild and oriental-looking. I always long to
clap a turban on his head, and a great flowing robe over his shoulders."

Minnie listened eagerly, with parted lips, to all that Diamond would
tell her of the preacher.

"That is for his manner," she said, at length. "Now, as to the matter?"

Mr. Diamond paused. "The man is an enthusiast, you know," he answered,
gravely.

"But as to his doctrine? Give me some idea of the kind of thing he
says."

"Not now."

"Yes; now. This moment."

"Excuse me; I cannot enter into the subject now."

Minnie raises her brown eyes to his steel-grey ones, and then drops her
own quickly.

"Will you ever?" she asks, meekly.

"Perhaps. I don't know."

Miss Bodkin is not accustomed to be answered with such unceremonious
curtness; but, perhaps on account of its novelty, Mr. Diamond's blunt
disregard of her requests (in that house Minnie's requests have the
weight of commands) does not ruffle her. She bears it with the most
perfect sweetness, and proceeds to discourse of other things.

"Don't you think it a pity," she says, "that Algernon Errington should
have refused his cousin's offer?"

"A great pity--for him."

"Ah! you think Mr. Filthorpe of Bristol is not to be condoled with on
the occasion?"

Mr. Diamond's firmly closed lips remain immovable.

Minnie looks at him wistfully, and then says suddenly, "Do you know I
like Algy very much! There is something so bright and winning and gay
about him! I have known him so long--ever since he came here as a small
child in a frock. And papa knew his father, Dr. Errington. He was a very
clever man, a brilliant talker, and greatly sought after in society.
Algy inherits all that. And he has--what they say his father had not--a
temper that is almost perfect, thoroughly sound and sweet. I wish you
liked him."

"Who tells you that I do not like him? You are mistaken in fancying so.
I think Errington one of the most winning fellows I ever knew in my
life."

"Y-yes; but you don't think so well of him as I do."

"Perhaps that is hardly to be expected! And pardon me, Miss Bodkin, but
you don't know----"

"I know nothing about your thoughts on the subject!" interrupts Minnie
quickly, and with a bright, mischievous glance. "Forgive my interrupting
you; but when I am to have a cold shower-bath, I like to pull the string
myself. Now it's over."

"You think me a terrible bear," says Diamond, looking down on her
beautiful, animated face.

"Ah! take care. If I know nothing about your thoughts, how do you
pretend to guess mine? Besides, I am not so zoological in my choice of
epithets as your friend, Mrs. Errington. Papa nearly quarrelled with
that lady on the subject of Algy's going away. But, you know, it is not
all Mrs. Errington's fault. Algy chooses to try his fortune under the
auspices of Lord Seely--I can see that plainly enough. And what Algy
chooses his mother chooses. He has been terribly spoiled."

"It is a great misfortune----"

"To be spoiled?"

"For him to have lost his father when he was a child. Otherwise he might
not have been so pampered: though fathers spoil their children
sometimes!"

"Mine spoils me, I think. But then there is an excuse, after all, for
spoiling me."

"My dear Miss Bodkin, you cannot suppose that I had any such meaning."

"You? Oh, no! You are honest: you never speak in innuendoes. But it is
true, you know. My father and mother have spoiled me. Poor father and
mother! I am but a miserable, frail little craft for them to have
ventured so much love and devotion in!"

It was not in mortal man--not even in mortal man whose heart was filled
with a passion for another woman--to refrain from a tender glance and a
soft tone, in answer to Minnie's pathetic little plaint. Her beauty and
her intellect might be resisted: her helplessness, and acknowledgment of
peculiar affliction, could not be.

"Ah!" said Matthew Diamond; "who would not embark all their freight of
affection in such a venture as the hope that you would love them again?
I think your parents are paid."

It has been said that Mr. Diamond's calm, grave face raised an
indefinite expectation in the beholder. When he said those words to
Minnie Bodkin, you would have thought, if you had been watching him,
that you had found the key of the puzzle, and that an ineffable
tenderness was the secret that lay hid beneath that grave mask. The
stern mouth smiled, the stern eyes beamed, the straight brows were
lifted in a compassionate curve. Minnie had never seen his face with
that look on it, and the change in it gave her a curious pang, half of
pain, half of pleasure. Strong conflicting feelings battled in her. She
was strung to a high pitch of excitement; and her eyes brightened, and
her pulse beat quicker--all for a look, a smile, a beam of the eye from
this staid, quiet schoolmaster! What do we know of the thought in our
neighbour's brain? of the thrill that makes his heart flutter? We do not
care for this air-bubble. How can he? It is yonder beautiful transparent
ball, all radiant with prismatic colours, that we expend our breath
upon. Up it goes--up, up, up--look! No; our stupid neighbour is watching
his own airy sphere, which is not nearly so beautiful; and which, we
know, will burst presently!

The game of vingt-et-un comes to an end. Almost at the same moment the
whist-players break up, and come trooping into the drawing-room;
trooping and talking rather noisily, to say the truth, as though to
indemnify themselves for the silence which Doctor Bodkin insists upon
during the classic game. Mrs. Bodkin bustles up to her daughter; hopes
she is not tired; thinks she looks a little fagged; wonders why she did
not have any music, as she generally likes Rose McDougall's Scotch
ballads; supposes Mr. Diamond preferred not to play, as she sees he has
been sitting out, and trusts he has not been bored.

But of all the people present, Mrs. Bodkin alone guesses that Minnie has
enjoyed her evening, and why. And, with her mother's and woman's
instinct, she knows that Minnie's pleasure would have been spoiled by
guessing that it had been guessed. For the rest, this small
anxious-faced woman cares but little. She would tear your feelings to
mince-meat to feed the fancies of her daughter, as ruthlessly as any
maternal vixen would slay a chicken for her cubs; although, for herself,
no hare is milder or more timid.

The Misses McDougall are in good spirits. They have won, and they have
had the two young men all to themselves, for Ally Dockett in short
frocks doesn't count. Also Minnie Bodkin has kept aloof. That bright
lamp of hers is not favourable to such twinkling little rushlights as
Rose and Violet are able to display. But this evening they have not been
quenched by a superior luminary, and are quite radiant and cheerful. Dr.
Bodkin, too, is contented in his lofty manner; for there has been no
music, and he has enjoyed his rubber in peace. Colonel Whistler has
lost, but the stakes are always modest at Dr. Bodkin's table, and he
doesn't mind it. Over the feelings of the Rev. Peter Warlock it will,
perhaps, be best to draw a veil. The reverend gentleman stalks in, and
sits down in a corner, whence he can stare at Minnie unobserved. It is
the only comfort he enjoys throughout the evening. And for this he
thinks it worth while to submit to the _peine forte et dure_ of playing
whist, with Colonel Whistler for his partner.

Mrs. Errington sails towards Minnie's sofa, and suddenly stops short,
and opens her eyes very wide.

Mr. Diamond, who is the object of her gaze, rises and bows. "Good
evening, madam," he says, unable to repress a smile at her manifest
astonishment on beholding him there.

"Why, how do you do, Mr. Diamond? Dear me! I little expected to see you
this evening. Dear Minnie, how are you now? Well, this is a surprise!"

Then, as Mr. Diamond moves away, Mrs. Errington takes his chair beside
Minnie, and says to her confidentially--"Now, I hope, Minnie, you won't
owe me a grudge for it; but I must confess that if it hadn't been for
me, you wouldn't have had that gentleman to entertain this evening."

"What on earth do you mean?" cries Minnie, with scant ceremony, and
flashes an impatient glance at the lady's soft, smiling, self-satisfied
visage.

"My dear, I advised him to come here a little oftener. I think he felt
diffident, you know, and all that. Poor man, he is rather dull, although
Algy is always crying up his talents. But it really is kind to bring him
forward a little. I asked him to tea the other night. You see he must
feel it a good deal when people are affable, and so on, for"--here her
voice sank to a whisper--"he told me himself that he had been a sizar."

With all which benevolent remarks Miss Bodkin is, of course, highly
delighted. She does not forget them either; for after the negus has been
drunk, and the sandwiches eaten, and the company has departed, she says
to her father, "Papa, was Mr. Diamond a sizar?"

"I don't know, child. Very likely. None the worse for that, if he were."

"The worse! No!" returns Minnie, with a superb smile.

"Who says he was?"

"Mrs. Errington."

"Pooh! Ten to one it isn't true then. She has her good points, poor
woman, but the Ancrams are all liars; every one of them! Greatest liars
in all the Midland Counties. It runs in the family, like gout."

"It does not seem likely, certainly, that Mr. Diamond should have
confided the circumstance to Mrs. Errington," observed Minnie,
thoughtfully.

"Confided! No; I never knew a man less likely to confide anything to
anybody."

"However, after all, it is a thing which all the world might know, isn't
it, papa?"

Dr. Bodkin was not interested in the question. He gave a great loud
yawn, and declared it was time for Minnie to go to bed.

"It doesn't follow that I'm sleepy because you yawn, papa!" she said
saucily.

"You are tired though, puss! I see it in your face. Go to bed. Mrs.
Bodkin, get Minnie off to rest."

He bent to kiss his daughter, and bid her good night.

"Say 'God bless' me, papa," she whispered, drawing his head down and
kissing his forehead.

"Don't I always say it? God bless you, my darling!"

There were tears in Minnie's eyes as she turned her head away among her
cushions. But nobody saw them. She talked to the maid who undressed her
about Mr. Powell, the Methodist preacher, and asked her if she had heard
him, and what the folks said about him in the town.

"No, Miss Minnie. I've never heard him, and I know master wouldn't think
it right for any of us to be going to a dissenting chapel. But I do
think as there's some good to be got there, miss. For my brother
Richard, him that lives groom at Pudcombe Hall--he went and got--got
'conversion,' I think they call it, at Mr. Powell's. And since then he's
never touched a drop of liquor, nor a bad word never comes out of his
mouth. And he says he's quite happy and comfortable in his mind, miss."

"Is he? How I envy him!"



CHAPTER VI.


It is exceedingly disagreeable to find that a scheme you have set your
head on, or a prospect which smiles before you, is displeasing to the
persons who surround you. It gives a cold shock to the glow of
anticipation.

Algernon did not perhaps care to sympathise very keenly with other
folks' pleasure, but he certainly desired that they should be pleased
with what pleased him, which is not quite the same thing.

His mother informed him--perhaps with a dash of the Ancram colouring;
although we have seen how unjustly the worthy lady was suspected of
falsehood by Dr. Bodkin on a late occasion--that Mr. Diamond disapproved
of his refusing Mr. Filthorpe's offer, and of his resolve to go to
London. Dr. Bodkin, Algernon knew, did not approve it; neither did
Minnie, although she had never said so in words. How unpleasantly chilly
people were, to be sure!

Mrs. Errington did not like Mr. Diamond. She mistrusted him. His silence
and gravity, his odd sarcastic smiles, and taciturn politeness, made her
uneasy. Despite the patronising way in which she had spoken of him to
Minnie Bodkin, in her heart she thought the young man to be horribly
presuming.

"I'm sure he doesn't appreciate you at all, Algy," she declared, winding
up a list of Mr. Diamond's defects and misdemeanours with this
culminating accusation.

Algy had a shrewd notion that Mr. Diamond's appreciation of himself was
likely to be a just one, and he was a little vexed and discomfited, that
his tutor had given him no word of praise behind his back. Mrs.
Errington saw that she had made an impression, and began to heighten and
embellish her statements accordingly. "But, my dear boy," said she, "how
can we expect him to recognise talents like yours--gentlemanly talents,
so to speak? The man himself is a mere plodder. Why, he was a sizar at
college!"

Algy felt himself to be a very generous fellow for continuing to "stand
up for old Diamond," as he phrased it.

"Well, ma'am, plenty of great men have been poor scholars. Dean Swift
was a sizar."

"And Dean Swift died in a madhouse! So you see, Algy!"

Mrs. Errington plumed herself a good deal upon this retort, and returned
to the attack upon Mr. Diamond with fresh vigour; being one of those
persons whose mode of warfare is elephantine, and who, never content
with merely killing their enemy, must ponderously stamp and mash every
semblance of humanity out of him.

Algernon did not like all this. His vanity was--at least during this
period of his life--a great deal more vulnerable than his mother's. And
she, although she doated on him, would say unpleasant things,
indignantly repeat mortifying remarks which had been made, and in a
hundred ways unconsciously wound the sensitive love of approbation which
was one of Algernon's tenderest (not to say weakest) points.

It was all very disagreeable. But it was not the worst he had to look
forward to. There was one person who would be so cast down, so
despairing, at the news of his going away, that--that--it would be quite
painful for a fellow to witness such grief. And yet it could not be
expected--it could never have been expected--that he should stay in
Whitford all his life! He must point that out to Rhoda.

Poor Rhoda!

For ten years, that is to say for more than half her life, Algernon
Errington had been an idol, a hero, to her. From the first day when,
peeping from behind the parlour door, she had beheld the strangers
enter--Mrs. Errington, majestic, in a huge hat and plume, such as young
readers may have seen in obsolete fashion books (the mode was so absurd
fifty years ago, and had none of that simple elegance which
distinguishes your costume, my dear young lady), and Algy, a lovely fair
child, in a black velvet suit and falling collar--from that moment the
boy had been a radiant apparition in her imagination. How small, and
poor, and shabby she felt, as she peeped out of the parlour at that
beautiful, blooming mother and son! Not poor and shabby in a milliner's
sense of the word, but literally of no account, or beauty, or value, in
the world, little shy motherless thing! She had an intense delight in
beauty, this Whitford grocer's daughter. And all her little life the
craving for beauty in her had been starved: not wilfully, but because
the very conception of such food as would wholesomely have fed it, was
wanting in the people with whom she lived.

That was a great day when she first, by chance, attracted Mrs.
Errington's notice. She was too timid and too simple to scheme for that
end, as many children would have done, although she tremblingly desired
it. What a surprisingly splendid sight was the tortoise-shell work-box,
full of amber satin and silver! What a delightful revelation the sound
of the old harpsichord, touched by Mrs. Errington's plump white
fingers! What a perennial source of wonder and admiration were that
lady's accomplishments, and condescension, and kind soft voice!

As to Algernon, there never was such a clever and brilliant little boy.
At eight years old he could sing little songs to his mother's
accompaniment, in the sweetest piping voice. He could recite little
verses. He even drew quite so that you could tell--or Rhoda could--his
trees, houses, and men from one another.

In all the stories his mother told about the greatness of her family,
and in all the descriptions she gave of her ancestral home in
Warwickshire, Rhoda's imagination put in the boy as the central figure
of the piece. She could see him in the great hall hung round with
armour; although she knew that he had never been in the family mansion
in his life; in the grand drawing-room, with its purple carpet and gilt
furniture; above all, in the long portrait gallery, of which Rhoda was
never tired of hearing. Heaven knows how she, innocently, and Mrs.
Errington, exercising her hereditary talent, embellished and transformed
the old brick house in its deer park; or what enchanted landscapes the
child at all events conjured up, among the gentle slopes and tufted
woods of Warwickshire!

Even the period of hobbledehoydom, fatal to beauty, to grace, almost to
civilised humanity in most schoolboys, Algernon passed through
triumphantly. He had a great sense of humour, and fastidious pampered
habits of mind and body, which enabled him to look down with more or
less disdain--a good-humoured disdain, always, Algy was never
bitter--upon the obstreperous youth at the Whitford Grammar School.

One fight he had. He was forced into it by circumstances, against his
will. Not that he was a coward, but he had a greater, and more candidly
expressed regard for the ease and comfort of his body, than his
schoolfellows conceived to be compatible with pluck. However, our young
friend, if less stoical, was a great deal cleverer than the majority of
his peers; and perceiving that the moment had arrived when he must
either fight or lose caste altogether, he frankly accepted the former
alternative. He fought a boy bigger and heavier than himself, got beaten
(not severely, but fairly well beaten) and bore his defeat--in the
dialect of his compeers, "took his licking"--admirably. He was quite as
popular afterwards, as if he had thrashed his adversary, who was a
loutish boy, the cock of the school, as to strength. Had he bruised his
way to the perilous glory of being cock of the school himself, it would
have behoved him to maintain it against all comers; which is an anxious
and harassing position. Algy had not vanquished the victor, but he had
"taken his licking like a trump," and, on the whole, may be said to
have achieved his reputation, at the smallest cost possible under the
circumstances.

His mother and Rhoda almost shrieked at beholding his bruised cheek, and
bleeding lip, when he came home one half-holiday, from the field of
battle. Algy laughed as well as his swollen features would let him, and
calmed their feminine apprehensions. Nor would he accept his fond
parent's enthusiastic praise of his heroism, mingled with denunciations
of "that murderous young ruffian, Master Mannit."

"Pooh, ma'am," said the hero, "it's all brutal and low enough. We bumped
and thumped each other as awkwardly as possible. I fought because I was
obliged. And I didn't like it, and I shan't fight again if I can help
it. It is so stupid!"

The young fellow's great charm was to be unaffected. Even his
fine-gentlemanism sat quite easily on him, and was displayed with the
frankest good humour. Some one reproached him once with being more nice
than wise. "We can't all be wise, but we needn't be nasty!" returned
Algy, with quaint gravity. His temper was, as Minnie Bodkin had said,
nearly perfect. He had a singular knack of disarming anger or hostility.
You could not laugh Algernon out of any course he had set his heart
upon--a rare kind of strength at his age--but it was ten to one he would
laugh you into agreeing with him. Every one of his little gifts and
accomplishments was worth twice as much in him as it would have been in
clumsier hands.

If you had a heartache, I do not think that you would have found Algy's
companionship altogether soothing. Sorrow is apt to feel the very
sunshine cruelly bright and cheerful. But if you were merry and wanted
society: or bored, and wanted amusement: or dull and wanted
exhilarating, no better companion could be desired.

He was genial with his equals, affable to his inferiors, modest towards
his superiors--and had not a grain of veneration in his whole
composition.

At seventeen years old Algernon left the Grammar School. But he
continued to "read" with Mr. Diamond for nearly a twelvemonth. "My son
is studying the classics with Mr. Diamond," Mrs. Errington would say; "I
can't send my boy to the University, where all his forefathers
distinguished themselves. But he has had the education of a gentleman."

It was a very desultory kind of reading at the best, and it was
interrupted by the long Midsummer holidays, during which Mr. Diamond
went away from Whitford, no one knew exactly whither. And during these
same holidays, Mrs. Errington, who said she required change of air, had
taken lodgings in a little quiet Welsh village, and obtained Mr.
Maxfield's permission to have Rhoda with her.

That was a time of joy for the girl. It did not at all detract from
Rhoda's happiness, that she was required to wait hand and foot on Mrs.
Errington; to bring her her breakfast in bed; to trim her caps, to mend
her stockings; to iron out scraps of fine lace and muslin; to walk with
her when she was minded to stroll into the village; to order the dinner;
to make the pudding--a culinary operation too delicate for the fingers
of the rustic with whom they lodged--to listen to her patroness when it
pleased her to talk; and to play interminable games of cribbage with her
when she was tired of talking. All these things were a labour of love to
Rhoda. And Mrs. Errington was kind to the girl in her own way.

And above all, was not Algy there? Those were happy days in the Welsh
village. On the long delicious summer afternoons, when Mrs. Errington
was asleep after dinner, Rhoda would sit out of doors with her sewing;
on a bench under the parlour window, so as to be within call of her
patroness; and Algy would lounge beside her with a book; or make short
excursions to get her wild flowers, which he would toss into her lap,
laughing at her ecstasy of gratitude. "Oh, Algy!" she would cry, "Oh,
how good of you! How lovely they are!" The words written down are not
eloquent, but Rhoda's looks and tones made them so.

"They are not half so lovely," Algy would answer, "as properly educated
garden flowers; nor so sweet either. But I know you like that sort of
herbage."

Rhoda never forgot those days. How should she forget them?--since it was
at this period that Algernon first discovered that he was in love with
her. Perhaps he might never have made the discovery if they had all
stayed at Whitford. There he saw her, as he had seen her since her
childhood, surrounded by coarse common people, and living their life,
more or less. It is not every one who can be expected to recognise your
diamond, if you set it in lead. Rhoda was always sweet, always gentle,
always pretty, but she formed part and parcel of old Max's
establishment. When the boy and girl were quite small, she used to help
him with his lessons (her one year's seniority made a greater difference
between them then, than it did later) and had always been used to do him
sisterly service in a hundred ways. And all this was by no means
favourable to the young gentleman's falling in love with her.

But at Llanryddan, Rhoda appeared under quite a different aspect. She
looked prettier than ever before, Algernon thought. And perhaps she
really was so; for there is no such cosmetic for the complexion as
happiness. Apart from her vulgar relations, and treated as a lady by the
few strangers with whom they came in contact, it was surprising to find
how good her manners were, and how much natural grace she possessed.
Mrs. Errington had taught her what may be termed the technicalities of
polite behaviour. From her own heart and native sensibility she had
learnt the essentials. The people in the village turned their heads to
admire her, as she walked modestly along. Who could help admiring her?
Algernon decided that there was not one among the young ladies of
Whitford who could compare with Rhoda. "She is ten times as pretty as
those raw-boned McDougalls, and twenty times as well bred as Alethea
Dockett, and ever so much cleverer than Miss Pawkins," he reflected.
Minnie Bodkin never came into his head in the list of damsels with whom
Rhoda could be compared. Minnie occupied a place apart, quite removed
from any idea of love-making.

Dear Little Rhoda! How fond she was of him!

Altogether Rhoda appeared in a new light, and the new light became her
mightily. Yes; Algy was certainly in love with her, he acknowledged to
himself. There was no scene, no declaration. It all came to pass very
gradually. In Rhoda the sense of this love stole on as subtly as the
dawn. Before she had begun to watch the glowing streaks of rose-colour,
it was daylight! And then how warm and golden it grew in her little
world! How the birds chirped and fluttered, and the flowers breathed
sweet breath, and a thousand diamond drops stood on the humblest blades
of grass!

If she had been nine years old, instead of nearly nineteen, she could
scarcely have given less heed to the worldly aspects of the situation.

Algernon perhaps more consciously set aside considerations of the
future. He was but a boy, however; and he always had a great gift of
enjoying the present moment, and sending Janus-headed Care, that looks
forward and backward, to the deuce. As yet there was no Lord Seely on
his horizon; no London society; no diplomatic career. The latter indeed
was but an Ancramism of his mother's, when she spoke of it to Mr.
Diamond, and Algy at that time had never entertained the idea of it.

So these two young persons sat side by side, on the bench outside the
Welsh cottage, and were as happy as the midsummer days were long.

But long as the midsummer days were, they passed. Then came the time for
going back to Whitford. The day before their return home Rhoda received
a shock of pain--the first, but not the last, which she ever felt from
this love of hers--at these words, said carelessly, but in a low voice,
by Algy, as he lounged at her side, watching the sunset:

"Rhoda, darling, you must not say a word to any one about--about you and
me, you know."

Not say a word! What had she to say? And to whom? "No, Algy," she
answered, in a faint little voice, and began to meditate. The idea had
been presented to her for the first time that it was her duty, or Algy's
duty, to drag their secret from its home in Fairyland, and subject it to
the eyes and tongues of mortals. But being once there, the idea stayed
in her mind and would not be banished. Her father--Mrs. Errington--what
would they say if they knew that--that she had dared to love Algernon?
The future began to look terribly hard to her. The glittering mist which
had hidden it was drawn away like a gauze curtain. How could she not
have seen it all before? Would any one believe for evermore that she had
been such a child, such a fool, so selfishly absorbed in her pleasant
day-dreams, as not to calculate the cost of it for one moment until now?

"Oh, Algy!" the poor child broke out, lifting a pale face and startled
eyes to his; "if we could only go on for ever as we are! If it would be
always summer, and we two could stay in this village, and never go back,
or see any of the people again--except father," she added hastily. And a
pang of remorse smote her as her conscience told her that the father who
loved her so well, and was so good to her, whatever he might be to
others, was not at all necessary to the happiness of her existence
henceforward.

"Don't let's be miserable now, at all events," returned Algernon
cheerfully. "Look at that purple bar of cloud on the gold! I wonder if I
could paint that. I wish I had my colour-box here. The pencil sketches
are so dreary after all that colour."

Rhoda had no doubt that Algernon could paint "that," or anything else he
applied his brush to. After a while she said, with her heart beating
violently, and the colour coming and going in her cheeks: "Don't you
think it would be wrong, deceitful--to--if we--not to tell----" Poor
Rhoda could not frame her sentence, and was obliged to leave it
unfinished.

"Deceitful! Am I generally deceitful, Rhoda? Oh, I say, don't cry;
there's a pet! Don't, my darling! I can't bear to see you sorry. But,
look here, Rhoda, dear; I'm so young yet, that it wouldn't do to talk
about being in love, or anything of that sort. Though I know I shall
never change, they would declare I didn't know my own mind, and would
make a joke of it"--this shot told with Rhoda, who shrank from ridicule,
as a sensitive plant shrinks from the north wind--"and bother my--our
lives out. Can't you see old Grimgriffin's great front teeth grinning at
us?"

It was in these terms that Algy was wont to allude to that respectable
spinster, Miss Elizabeth Grimshaw.

Rhoda knew that Algy wished and expected her to smile when he said that;
and she tried to please him, but the smile would not come. Her lip
quivered, and tears began to gather in her eyes again. She would have
sobbed outright if she had tried to speak. The more she thought the
sadder and more frightened she grew. Ridicule was painful, but that was
not the worst. Her father! Mrs. Errington! She lay awake half the night,
terrifying herself with imaginations of their wrath.

Algy found an opportunity the next morning to whisper to her a few
words. "Don't look so melancholy, Rhoda. They'll wonder at Whitford
what's the matter if you go back with such a wan face. And as to what
you said about deceit, why we shan't pretend not to love each other!
Look here, we must have patience! I shall always love you, darling, and
I'm sure to get my own way with my mother in the long run; I always do."

So then there would be obstacles to contend with on Mrs. Errington's
part, and Algy acknowledged that there would. Of course she had known
before that it must be so. But Algy had declared that he would always
love her; that was the one comforting thought to which she clung. Rhoda
had grown from a child to a woman since yesterday. Algy was only older
by four-and-twenty hours.

After their return to Whitford came Mr. Filthorpe's letter. Then his
mother's application to Lady Seely, brought about by an old acquaintance
of Mrs. Errington, who lived in London, and kept up an intermittent
correspondence with her. Both these events were talked over in Rhoda's
presence. Indeed, the girl filled the part towards Mrs. Errington that
the confidant enacts towards the prima donna in an Italian opera. Mrs.
Errington was always singing scenas to her, which, so far as Rhoda's
share in them went, might just as well have been uttered in the shape of
a soliloquy. But the lady was used to her confidant, and liked to have
her near, to take her hand in the impressive passages, and to walk up
the stage with her during the symphony.

So Rhoda heard Algernon's prospects canvassed. In her heart she longed
that he should accept Mr. Filthorpe's offer. It would keep him nearer to
her in every sense. She had few opportunities of talking with him alone
now--far fewer than at dear Llanryddan; but she was able to say a few
words privately to him one afternoon (the very afternoon of Dr. Bodkin's
whist-party), and she timidly hinted that if Algy went to Bristol,
instead of to London amongst all those great folks, she would not feel
that she had lost him so completely.

"My dear child!" exclaimed Algy, whose outlook on life had a good deal
changed during the last three months, "how can you talk so? Fancy me on
Filthorpe's office stool!"

"London is such a long way off, Algy," murmured the girl plaintively.
"And then, amongst all those grand people, lords and ladies, you--you
may grow different."

"Upon my word, my dear Rhoda, your appreciation of me is highly
flattering! For my part it seems to me more likely that I should grow
'different' in the society of Bristol tradesmen than amongst my own kith
and kin--people like myself and my parents in education and manners. I
am a gentleman, Rhoda. Lord Seely is not more."

Rhoda shrank back abashed before this magnificent young gentleman. Such
a flourish was very unusual in Algernon. But the Ancram strain in him
had been asserting itself lately. He was sorry when he saw the poor
girl's hurt look and downcast eyes, from which the big tears were
silently falling one by one. He took her in his arms, and kissed her
pale cheeks, and brought a blush on to them, and an April smile to her
lips; and called her his own dear pretty Rhoda, whom he could never,
never forget.

"Perhaps it would be best to forget me, Algy," she faltered. And
although his loving words, and flatteries, and caresses, were
inexpressibly sweet to her, the pain remained at her heart.

She never again ventured to say a word to him about his plans. She would
listen, meekly and admiringly, to his vivid pictures of all the fine
things he was to do in the future: pictures in which her figure
appeared--like the donor of a great altarpiece, full of splendid saints
and golden-crowned angels--kneeling in one corner. And she would sit in
silent anguish whilst Mrs. Errington expatiated on her son's prospects;
wherein, of late, a "great alliance" played a large part. But she could
not rouse herself to elation or enthusiasm. This mattered little to Mrs.
Errington, who only required her confidante to stand tolerably still
with her back to the audience. But it worried Algernon to see Rhoda's
sad, downcast face, irresponsive to any of his bright anticipations. It
must be owned that the young fellow's position was not entirely
pleasant. Yet his admirable temper and spirits scarcely flagged. He was
never cross, except, now and then, just a very little to his mother. And
if no one else in the world less deserved his ill-humour, at least no
one else in the world was so absolutely certain to forgive him for it!



CHAPTER VII.


Parliament was to meet early in February. It seemed strange that that
fact should have any interest for Rhoda Maxfield; nevertheless, so it
was. Algernon was to go to London, but it was no use to be there unless
Lord Seely, "our cousin," were there also; and my lord our cousin would
not be in town before the meeting of parliament. Thus the assembling of
the peers and commons of this realm at Westminster was an event on which
poor Rhoda's thoughts were bent pretty often in the course of the
twenty-four hours.

Mrs. Errington announced to the whole Maxfield family that Algernon was
going away from Whitford, and accompanied the announcement with florid
descriptions of the glory that awaited her son, in the highest Ancram
style of embellishment.

"Well," said old Max, after listening awhile, "and will this lord get
Mr. Algernon a place?"

Mrs. Errington could not answer this question very definitely. The
future was vague, though splendid. But of course Algy would distinguish
himself. That was a matter of course. Perhaps he might begin as Lord
Seely's private secretary.

"A sekketary! Humph! I don't think much o' that!" grunted Mr. Maxfield.

"My dear man, you don't understand these things. How should you? Many
noblemen's sons would only be too delighted to get the position of
private secretary to Lord Seely. A man of such distinction! Hand and
glove with the sovereign!"

Maxfield did not altogether dislike to hear his lodger hold forth in
this fashion. He had a certain pleasure in contemplating the future
grandeur of Mr. Algernon, whose ears he had boxed years ago, on the
occasion of finding him enacting the battle of Waterloo, with a couple
of schoolfellows, in the warehouse behind the shop, and attacking a
Hougoumont of tea-chests and flour-barrels, so briskly, as to threaten
their entire demolition.

Maxfield was weaving speculations in connection with the young man, of
so wild and fanciful a nature as would have astonished his most familiar
friends, could they have peeped into the brain inside his grizzled old
head.

But this rose-coloured condition of things did not last.

One afternoon, Mrs. Errington looked into his little sitting-room, on
her way upstairs, and finding him with an account-book, in which he was,
not making, but reading entries, she stepped in, and began to chat; if
any speech so laboriously condescending as hers to Mr. Maxfield may be
thus designated. Her theme, of course, was her son, and her son's
prospects.

"That'll be all very fine for Mr. Algernon, to be sure," said old Max,
slowly, after some time, "but--it'll cost money."

"Not so much as you think for. Low persons who feel themselves in a
false position, no doubt find it necessary to make a show. But a real
gentleman can afford to be simple."

"But I take it he'll have to afford other things besides being simple!
He'll have to afford clothes, and lodging, and maybe food. You aren't
rich."

Mrs. Errington admitted the fact.

"Algernon ought to find a wife with a bit o' money," said the old man,
looking straight and hard into the lady's eyes. Those round orbs
sustained the gaze as unflinchingly as if they had been made of blue
china.

"It is not at all a bad idea," Mrs. Errington said, graciously.

"But then he wouldn't just take the first ugly woman as had a fort'n."

"Oh dear no!"

"No; nor yet an old 'un."

"Good gracious, man! of course not!"

"Young, pretty, good, and a bit o' money. That's about his mark, eh?"

Mrs. Errington shook her head pathetically. "She ought to have birth,
too," she said. "But the woman takes her husband's rank; unless," she
added, correcting herself, and with much emphasis, "unless she happens
to be the better born of the two."

"Oh, she does, eh? The woman takes her husband's rank? Ah! well, that's
script'ral. I have never troubled my head about these vain worldly
distinctions; but that is script'ral."

Mrs. Errington was not there to discuss her landlord's opinions or to
listen to them; but he served as well as another to be the recipient of
her talk about Algernon, which accordingly she resumed, and indulged in
ever-higher flights of boasting. Her mendacity, like George Wither's
muse,

    As it made wing, so it made power.

"The fact is, there is more than one young lady on whom my connections
in London have cast their eye for Algy. Miss Pickleham, only daughter of
the great drysalter, who is such an eminent member of Parliament;
Blanche Fitzsnowdon, Judge Whitelamb's lovely niece; one of
Major-General Indigo's charming girls, all of them perfect specimens of
the Eastern style of beauty--their mother was an Indian princess, and
enormously wealthy. But I am in no hurry for my boy to bind himself in
an engagement: it hampers a young man's career."

"Career!" broke out old Max, who had listened to all this, and much
more, with an increasingly dismayed and lowering expression of
countenance. "Why, what's his career to be? He's been brought up to do
nothing! It 'ud be his only chance to get hold of a wife with a bit o'
money. Then he might act the gentleman at his ease; and maybe his fine
friends 'ud help him when they found he didn't want it. But as for
career--it's my opinion as he'll never earn his salt!"

And with that the old man marched across the passage into the shop,
taking no further notice of his lodger; and she heard him slam the
little half-door, giving access to the storehouse, with such force as to
set the jingling bell on it tinkling for full five minutes.

Mrs. Errington was so surprised by this sally, that she stood staring
after him for some time before she was able to collect herself
sufficiently to walk majestically upstairs.

"Maxfield's temper becomes more and more extraordinary," she said to her
son, with an air of great solemnity. "The man really forgets himself
altogether. Do you suppose that he drinks, Algy? or is he, do you think,
a little touched?" She put her finger to her forehead. "Really I should
not wonder. There has been a great deal of preaching and screeching
lately, since this Powell came; and, you know, they do say that these
Ranters and Methodists sometimes go raving mad at their field-meetings
and love-feasts. You need not laugh, my dear boy; I have often heard
your father say that nothing was more contagious than that sort of
hysterical excitement. And your father was a physician; and certainly
knew his profession if he didn't know the world, poor man!"

"Was old Max hysterical, ma'am?" asked Algernon, his whole face lighted
up with mischievous amusement. And the notion so tickled him, that he
burst out laughing at intervals, as it recurred to him, all the rest of
the day.

Betty Grimshaw, and Sarah, the servant-maid, and James, helping his
father to serve in the shop, and the customers who came to buy, all
suffered from the unusual exacerbation of Maxfield's temper for some
time after that conversation of his with Mrs. Errington.

It increased, also, the resentful feeling which had been growing in his
mind towards David Powell. The young man's tone of rebuke, in speaking
of Rhoda's associating with the Erringtons, had taken Maxfield by
surprise at the time; and he had not, he afterwards thought, been
sufficiently trenchant in his manner of putting down the presumptuous
reprover. He blew up his wrath until it burned hot within him; and, the
more so, inasmuch as he could give no vent to it in direct terms. To
question and admonish was the acknowledged duty of a Methodist preacher.
Conference made no exceptions in favour even of so select a vessel as
Jonathan Maxfield. But Maxfield thought, nevertheless, that Powell ought
to have had modesty and discernment to make the exception himself.

No inquisitor--no priest, sitting like a mysterious Eastern idol in the
inviolate shrine of the confessional--ever exercised a more tremendous
power over the human conscience than was laid in the hands of the
Methodist preacher or leader according to Wesley's original conception
of his functions. But besides the essential difference between the
Romish and Methodist systems that the latter could bring no physical
force to bear on the refractory, there was this important point to be
noted: namely, that the inquisitor might be subjected to inquisition by
his flock. The priest might be made to come forth from the
confessional-box, and answer to a pressing catechism before all the
congregation. In the band-meetings and select societies each individual
bound himself to answer the most searching questions "concerning his
state, sins, and temptations." It was a mutual inquisition, to which,
of course, those who took part in it voluntarily submitted themselves.

But the spiritual power wielded by the chiefs was very great, as their
own subordination to the conference was very complete. Its pernicious
effects were, however, greatly kept in check by the system of
itinerancy, which required the preachers to move frequently from place
to place.

There are few human virtues or weaknesses to which, on one side or the
other, Methodism in its primitive manifestations did not appeal.
Benevolence, self-sacrifice, fervent piety, temperance, charity, were
all called into play by its teachings. But so also were spiritual
pride, narrow-mindedness, fanaticism, gloom, and pharisaical
self-righteousness. Only to the slothful, and such as loved their ease
above all things, early Methodism had no seductions to offer.

Jonathan Maxfield's father and grandfather had been disciples of John
Wesley. The grandfather was born in 1710, seven years before Wesley, and
had been among the great preacher's earliest adherents in Bristol.

Traditions of John Wesley's sayings and doings were cherished and handed
down in the family. They claimed kindred with Thomas Maxfield, Wesley's
first preacher, and conveniently forgot or ignored--as greater families
have done--those parts of their kinsman's career which ran counter to
the present course of their creed and conduct. For Thomas Maxfield
seceded from Wesley, but the grandfather and father of Jonathan
continued true to Methodism all their lives. They married within the
"society" (as was strictly enjoined at the first conference), and
assisted the spread of its tenets throughout their part of the West of
England.

In the third generation, however, the original fire of Methodism had
nearly burnt itself out, and a few charred sticks remained to attest the
brightness that had been. Never, perhaps, in the case of the
Maxfields--a cramp-natured, harsh breed--had the fire become a
hearth-glow to warm their homes with. It had rather been like the
crackling of thorns under a pot. The dryest and sharpest will flare for
a while.

Old Max, nevertheless, looked upon himself as an exemplary Methodist. He
made no mental analyses of himself or of his neighbours. He merely took
cognisance of facts as they appeared to him through the distorting
medium of his prejudices, temper, ignorance, and the habits of a
lifetime. When he did or said disagreeable things, he prided himself on
doing his duty. And his self-approval was never troubled by the
reflection that he did not altogether dislike a little bitter flavour in
his daily life, as some persons prefer their wine rough.

But to do and say disagreeable things because it is your duty is a very
different matter from accepting, or listening to, disagreeable things,
because it is somebody else's duty to do and say them! It was not to be
expected that Jonathan Maxfield should meekly endure rebuke from a young
man like David Powell.

And now crept in the exasperating suspicion that the young man might
have been right in his warning! Maxfield watched his daughter with more
anxiety than he had ever felt about her in his life, looking to see
symptoms of dejection at Algernon's approaching departure. He did not
know that she had been aware of it before it was announced to himself.

One day her father said to her abruptly, "Rhoda, you're looking very
pale and out o' sorts. Your eyes are heavy" (they were swollen with
crying), "and your face is the colour of a turnip. I think I shall send
you off to Duckwell for a bit of a change."

Duckwell Farm was owned by Seth, Maxfield's eldest son.

"I don't want a change, indeed, father," said the girl, looking up
quickly and eagerly. "I had a headache this morning, but it is quite
gone now. That's what made me look so pale."

From that time forward she exerted herself to appear cheerful, and to
shake off the dull pain at the heart which weighed her down, until her
father began to persuade himself that he had been mistaken, and
over-anxious. She always declared herself to be quite well and free from
care. "And I know she would not tell me a lie," thought the old man.

Alas, she had learned to lie in her words and her manner. She had, for
the first time in her life, a motive for concealment, and she used the
natural armour of the weak--duplicity.

Rhoda had been "good" hitherto, because her nature was gentle, and her
impulses affectionate. She had no strong religious fervour, but she
lived blamelessly, and prayed reverently, and was docile and
humble-minded. She had never professed to have attained that sudden and
complete regeneration of spirit which is the prime glory of Methodism.
But then many good persons lived and died without attaining "assurance."
Whenever Rhoda thought on the subject--which, to say the truth, was not
often, for her nature, though sweet and pure, was not capable of much
spiritual aspiration, and was altogether incapable of fervent
self-searching and fiery enthusiasm--she hoped with simple faith that
she should be saved if she did nothing wicked.

Her father and David Powell would have pointed out to her, that her
"doing," or leaving undone, could have no influence on the matter. But
their words bore small fruit in her mind. Her father's religious
teaching had the dryness of an accustomed formality to her ears. It had
been poured into them before she had sense to comprehend it, and had
grown to be nearly meaningless, like the everyday salutation we exchange
a hundred times, without expecting or thinking of the answer.

David Powell was certainly neither dry nor formal, but he frightened
her. She shut her understanding against the disturbing influence of his
words, as she would have pressed her fingers into her pretty ears to
keep out the thunder. And then her dream of love had come and filled her
life.

In most of us it wonderfully alters the focus of the mind's eye with its
glamour, that dream. To Rhoda it seemed the one thing beautiful and
desirable. And--to say all the truth--the pain of mind which she felt,
other than that connected with her lover's going away, and which she
attributed to remorse for the little deceptions and concealments she
practised, was occasioned almost entirely by the latent dread, lest the
time should come when she should sit lonely, looking at the cold ashes
of Algy's burnt-out love. For she did mistrust his constancy, although
no power would have forced the confession from her. This blind,
obstinate clinging to the beloved was, perhaps, the only form in which
self-esteem ever strongly manifested itself in that soft, timid nature.

There was one person who watched Rhoda more understandingly than her
father did, and who had more serious apprehensions on her account. David
Powell knew, as did nearly all Whitford by this time, that young
Errington was going away; and he clearly saw that the change in Rhoda
was connected with that departure. He marked her pallor, her absence of
mind, her fits of silence, broken by forced bursts of assumed
cheerfulness. Her feigning did not deceive him.

Albeit of almost equally narrow education with Jonathan Maxfield, Powell
had gained, in his frequent changes of place and contact with many
strange people, a wider knowledge of the world than the Whitford
tradesman possessed. He perceived how unlikely it was, that people like
the Erringtons should seriously contemplate allying themselves by
marriage with "old Max;" but that was not the worst. To the preacher's
mind, the girl's position was, in the highest degree, perilous; for he
conceived that what would be accounted by the world the happiest
possible solution to such a love as Rhoda's, would involve nothing less
than the putting in jeopardy her eternal welfare. He could not look
forward with any hope to a union between Rhoda and such a one as
Algernon Errington.

"The son is a shallow-hearted, fickle youth, with the vanity of a boy
and the selfishness of a man; the mother, a mere worldling, living in
decent godlessness."

Such was David Powell's judgment. He reflected long and earnestly. What
was his calling--his business in life? To save souls. He had no concern
with anything else. He must seek out and help, not only those who needed
him, but those who most needed him.

All conventional rules of conduct, all restraining considerations of a
merely social or worldly kind, were as threads of gossamer to this man
whensoever they opposed the higher commands which he believed to have
been laid upon him.

Jonathan Maxfield was falling away from godliness. He, too evidently,
was willing to give up his daughter into the tents of the heathen. The
pomps and vanities of this wicked world had taken hold of the old man.
Satan had ensnared and bribed him with the bait of worldly ambition.
From Jonathan there was no real help to be expected.

In the little garret-chamber, where he lodged in the house of a
widow--one of the most devout of the Methodist congregation--the
preacher rose from his knees one midnight, and took from his breast the
little, worn pocket-Bible, which he always carried. A bright cold moon
shone in at the uncurtained window, but its beams did not suffice to
enable him to read the small print of his Bible. He had no candle; but
he struck a light with a match, and, by its brief flare, read these
words, on which his finger had fallen as he opened the book:

"How hast thou counselled him that hath no wisdom? And how hast thou
plentifully declared the thing as it is?

"To whom hast thou uttered words? and whose spirit came from thee?"

He had drawn a lot, and this was the answer. The leading was clear. He
would speak openly with Rhoda himself. He would pray and wrestle; he
would argue and exhort. He would awaken her spirit, lulled to sleep by
the sweet voice of the tempter.

It would truly be little less than a miracle, should he succeed by the
mere force of his earnest eloquence, in persuading a young girl like
Rhoda to renounce her first love.

But, then, David Powell believed in miracles.



CHAPTER VIII.


All that she had heard of the Methodist preacher had taken strong hold
of Minnie Bodkin's imagination. Mr. Diamond's description of him
especially delighted her. It was in piquant contrast with her previous
notions about Methodists, who were associated in her mind with ludicrous
images. This man must be something entirely different--picturesque and
interesting.

But there was a deeper feeling in her mind than the mere curiosity to
see a remarkable person. Minnie was not happy; and her unhappiness was
not solely due to the fact of her bodily infirmities. She often felt a
yearning for a higher spiritual support and comfort than she had ever
derived from her father's teachings. She passed in review the
congregation of the parish church, most of whom were known to her, and
she asked herself what good result in their lives or characters was
produced by their weekly church-going. Was Mrs. Errington more truthful;
Miss Chubb less vain; Mr. Warlock less gloomy; her father (for Minnie,
in the pride of her keen intellect, spared no one) less arrogant and
overbearing; she herself more patient, gentle, hopeful, and happy, than
if the old bell of St. Chad's were silent, and the worm-eaten old doors
shut, and the dusty old pulpit voiceless, for evermore? Yet there were
said to be people on whom religion had a vital influence. She wished she
could know such. She could judge, she thought, by seeing and conversing
with them, whether or not there were any reality in their professions.
Minnie seldom doubted the sufficiency of her own acumen and penetration.

No; she was not happy. And might it not be that this Methodist man had
the secret of peace of mind? Was there in truth a physician who could
minister to a suffering spirit? She thought of Powell with the feeling
half of shame, half of credulity, with which an invalid hankers after a
quack medicine.

Minnie had been taught to look upon Dissenters in general as quacks, and
upon Methodists as arch-quacks. Dr. Bodkin professed himself a staunch
Churchman and a hater of "cant." He considered that Protestantism, and
the right of private judgment, had justly reached their extreme limits
in the Church of England as by law established. He detested enthusiasm
as a dangerous and disturbing element in human affairs, and he viewed
with especial indignation the pretensions of unlearned persons to
preach and proselytise. Although he had no leaning to Romanism, he would
rather have admitted a Jesuit into his house than a Methodist. Indeed,
he sometimes defined the latter to be the Jesuit of dissent--only, as he
would take care to point out, a Jesuit without learning, culture, or
authority.

"I can listen to a gentleman, although I may not agree with him," the
Doctor would say (albeit, in truth, he had no great gift of listening to
anyone who opposed his opinions), "but am I to be hectored and lectured
by the cobbler and the tinker?"

Minnie had no taste for being hectored or lectured; but it seemed to her
that what the cobbler and tinker said, was more important than the fact
that it was they who said it. She thought, and pondered, and wondered
about the Methodist preacher, and about her chance of ever seeing or
hearing more of him, until a thought darted into her mind like an arrow.
Little Rhoda! She was a Methodist born and bred, and knew this preacher,
and----Minnie would send for little Rhoda.

When she announced this resolution to her mother, Mrs. Bodkin found
several difficulties in the way of its fulfilment.

"What do you want with her, Minnie?"

"I want to see her. Mrs. Errington talks so much of her. I remember her
coming here with a message once, when she was a child. I recollect only
a little fair face and shy eyes, under a coal-scuttle straw bonnet.
Don't you, mamma? And I want to talk to her about several things," added
Minnie, with resolute truthfulness.

"Oh, dear me! What will your papa say?"

"I don't see how papa can object to my asking this nice little thing to
come to me for an afternoon, when he doesn't mind your boring yourself
to death with Goody Barton, whose snuff-taking would try the nerves of a
rhinoceros, nor forbid my inviting the little Jobsons, who are
unpleasant to look upon, and stupid beyond the wildest flights of
imagination. He lets me have any one I like."

"Yes; but you teach the little Jobsons the alphabet, my dear. And that
is a charitable work."

"And Rhoda will amuse me, and I'm sure that is a charitable work!"

Minnie would get her own way, of course. She always did.

That same evening Minnie said to her father, with her frank, bright
smile, "Papa, may I not ask Rhoda Maxfield to take tea with me some
afternoon?"

"Rhoda what?"

"Little Maxfield, the grocer's daughter, papa," said Minnie, boldly.

Mrs. Bodkin bent nervously over her knitting.

"What on earth for? Why do you want to associate with such folks? Have
you not plenty of friends without----?"

"No, papa. But I don't ask her because I'm in want of friends."

"Oh, Minnie," said Mrs. Bodkin in the quick, low tones she habitually
spoke in, "I'm sure nobody has more friends than you have! Everybody is
so glad to come to you, always."

"You're my friend, mamma. And papa is my friend. Never mind the rest. I
want to have little Maxfield to tea." Minnie laughed at herself, the
moment after she had said the words, in the tone of a spoiled child.

Dr. Bodkin crossed and uncrossed his legs, kicked a footstool out of the
way, and then got up and stood before the fire.

"If you want amusement, isn't there Miss Chubb or the McDougalls, or--or
plenty more?" said he, shooting out his upper lip, and frowning
uneasily.

"Now, papa, can you say in conscience that you find Miss Chubb and the
McDougalls perennially amusing?" Then, with a sudden change of tone,
"Besides, you know, the other people are playing their parts in life,
and strutting about hither and thither on the stage, and they find it
all more or less interesting. But I--I am like a child at a peep-show. I
can but look on, and I sometimes long for a change in the scene and the
puppets!"

The doctor began to poke the fire violently. "Laura," said he,
addressing his wife, "that last tea you got is good for nothing. They
brought me a cup just now in the study that was absolutely undrinkable.
Is it Smith's tea? Well, try Maxfield's. You can have some ordered when
the message is sent for the girl to come here."

In this way the doctor gave his permission.

The next day Minnie despatched her maid, Jane, with the following note
to Mr. Maxfield:--

"Will Mr. Maxfield allow his daughter Rhoda to spend the afternoon with
Miss Bodkin? Miss Bodkin is an invalid, and cannot often leave her room,
and it would give her great pleasure to see Rhoda. The maid shall wait
and accompany Rhoda if Mr. Maxfield permits, and Miss Bodkin undertakes
to have her sent safely home again in the evening."

Old Max was scarcely more surprised than gratified on reading this
invitation. He stood behind his counter holding the pink perfumed note
between his floury finger and thumb, and turning over the contents of it
in his mind, whilst his son James served the maid with some tea.

Miss Minnie was a much-looked-up-to personage in Whitford. And here was
Miss Minnie inviting Rhoda just as though she had been a lady, and
sending her own maid for her. This would be Algy's doing, the old man
decided. Algy had more sense than his mother. Algy knew that Rhoda was
fit to go anywhere, and could hold her own with the best. The young
fellow was very thick with Dr. Bodkin's family, and had, no doubt,
talked to Miss Minnie about Rhoda. All sorts of ideas thronged into old
Max's head, which, nevertheless, looked as obstinately idealess a one as
could well be imagined, as he stood conning the pink note, with his grey
eyebrows knotted together, and his heavy under-lip pursed up. Perhaps
not the feeblest element in his feeling of exultation was the sense of
triumph over David Powell. Powell might approve or disapprove, but
anyway, he would see that he was wrong in supposing the Erringtons did
not think Rhoda good enough for them! If they introduced her about among
their friends, that meant a good deal, eh, brother David? And that the
invitation came by means of the Erringtons, Maxfield felt more and more
convinced, the more he thought of it. So many years had passed, and Miss
Minnie had taken no notice of Rhoda. Why should she now? Maxfield was at
no loss to find the answer. Maybe old Mrs. Errington had talked for
talk's sake more than she meant. Maybe her boasting was in order to
drive a hard bargain, when Algy should come forward and offer to make
Rhoda a lady.

The Erringtons' friends were going little by little to make acquaintance
with Rhoda, in view of the promotion that awaited her. Well, Rhoda could
stand the test. Rhoda was quite different from the likes of him.

He called his sister-in-law out of the kitchen, and in a few hurried
words told her of the invitation, and bade her tell Rhoda to get ready
without delay. He cut Betty Grimshaw short in her exclamations and
inquiries. "I've no time to talk to you now," he said. "The maid is
waiting. Bid Rhoda clothe herself in her best garments."

"What! her Sunday frock, Jonathan?" exclaimed Betty in shrill surprise.

"'Sh! woman!" answered Maxfield, and gripped her wrist fiercely. He did
not want that family detail to come to the ears of Miss Bodkin's maid.

Rhoda was completely bewildered by the invitation, and by the breathless
haste with which Betty announced it to her, and hurried her
preparations. "But I don't want to go!" murmured Rhoda plaintively. At
the same time she suffered her clothes to be huddled on to her in Aunt
Betty's rough fashion.

"Ah! tell that to your parent, my dear. I have the mark of his fingers
on my wrist at this moment; he was in such a taking, and so--so
uncumboundable." This latter was a word of Betty's own invention, and
she frequently employed it with an air of great relish.

The idea of going amongst strangers was more terrible to Rhoda than can
easily be conceived by those who have never lived so secluded a life as
hers had been. Had she been able to say a word to Algernon, she thought
she should have derived a little comfort and support from him. But he
and his mother were both from home.

All the way from her own house to Dr. Bodkin's, Rhoda uttered no word,
except to ask Jane timidly if she were sure Miss Minnie would be
alone--quite alone?

The gloomy courtyard, and the stone entrance hall of the house struck
her with awe. The old man-servant who opened the door seemed to look
severely on her. She followed Jane with a beating heart up the wide
staircase, whose thick carpet muffled her footsteps mysteriously, and
then through a drawing-room full of furniture all covered with grey
holland. There was the glitter of gilt picture-frames on the walls, and
the shining of a great mirror, and of a large, dark, polished pianoforte
at one end of the room. And there was a mingled smell of flowers and
cedar-wood, and altogether the impression made upon Rhoda's senses, as
she passed through the apartment, was one of perfume, and silence, and
vague splendour. She had no time, even if she had had self-possession,
to examine the details of what seemed to her so grand, for she was led
across a passage and into a room opposite to the drawing-room, and found
herself in Miss Bodkin's presence.

The room was Minnie's bedroom, but it did not look like a sleeping
chamber, Rhoda thought. To be sure a little white-curtained bed stood in
one corner, but all the toilet apparatus was hidden by a curtain which
hung across a recess, and there were bookshelves full of books, and
flowers on a stand, and a writing-table. On one side of the fireplace,
in which a bright fire blazed, there was a curious sort of long chair,
and in it, dressed in a loose crimson robe of soft woollen stuff,
reclined Minnie Bodkin.

Rhoda was, as has been said, extremely sensitive to beauty, and Minnie's
whole aspect struck her with admiration. The picturesque rich-coloured
robe, the delicate white hands relieved upon it, the graceful languor of
Minnie's attitude, and the air of refinement in the young lady and her
surroundings, were all intensely appreciated by poor little Rhoda, who
stood dumb and blushing before her hostess.

Minnie, on her part, was a good deal taken by surprise. She welcomed
Rhoda with her sweetest smile, and thanked her for coming, and made her
sit down by the fire opposite to herself; and when they were alone
together, she talked on for some time with a sort of careless
good-nature, which, little by little, succeeded in setting Rhoda
somewhat at her ease. But careless as Minnie's manner was, she was
scrutinising the other girl's looks and ways very keenly.

"She is absolutely lovely!" thought Minnie, "And so graceful,
and--and--lady-like! Yes; positively that is the word. She is as shy as
a fawn, but no more awkward than one. It is not what I expected."

Perhaps Minnie could scarcely have said what it was that she had
expected. Probably a quiet, pretty-looking, well-behaved young person,
like her maid Jane. Rhoda was something very different, and the young
lady was charmed with her new _protégée_. Only she was obliged to admit,
before the afternoon was over, that she had failed in the main object
for which she had invited Rhoda to visit her. There was no clear and
vivid account of Powell, his teaching, or his preaching, to be got from
Rhoda.

Rhoda could not remember exactly what Mr. Powell said. Rhoda could not
say what it was which made all the people cry and grow so excited at his
preaching. Rhoda cried herself sometimes, but that was when he talked
very pitifully about poor people, and little children, and things like
that. Sometimes, too, she felt frightened at his preaching, but she
supposed she was frightened because she had not got assurance. Many of
the congregation had assurance. Yes; oh yes, the people said Mr. Powell
was a wonderful man, and the most awakening preacher who had been in
Whitford for fifty years.

Minnie looked at the simple, serious face, and marked the childlike
demureness of manner with which Rhoda declared Mr. Powell to be "an
awakening preacher." "I don't think he has awakened you to any very
startling extent!" thought Minnie. "This girl seems to have received no
strong influence from him."

That was in a great measure the fact; but also, Rhoda was held back from
speaking freely, by the conviction that her Methodist phraseology would
sound strange, and perhaps absurd, in the young lady's ears. Moreover,
it did not help to put her at her ease, that she felt sundry uneasy
pricks of conscience for not "bearing testimony" with more fervour. She
knew that David Powell would have had her improve the occasion to the
uttermost. But how could she run the risk of being disagreeable to Miss
Minnie, who was so kind to her?

That was the form in which Rhoda mentally put the case. The truth was,
hers was not one of those natures to which the invisible ever becomes
more real and important than the visible. It was incomparably more
necessary to her happiness to be in agreeable and smooth relations with
the people around her, than to feel herself in higher spiritual
communion with unseen powers.

When Minnie at length reluctantly desisted from questioning her on the
subject of Powell, and her chapel-going, and her religious feelings, she
was surprised to find how the girl's frigid, constrained manner thawed,
and how her tongue was loosened.

She chatted freely enough about her visit to Llanryddan in the summer,
and about Duckwell Farm, where her half-brother Seth lived, and, above
all, about Mrs. Errington. Mrs. Errington had been so good to her, and
had taught her, and talked to her; and did Miss Minnie know what a
change it was for a lady like Mrs. Errington to live in such a poor
place as theirs? For, although she had the best rooms, of course it was
very poor, compared with the castle she was brought up in. About
Algernon she said very little; but it slipped out that she was in the
habit of being present when Mr. Diamond came to read with the young
gentleman; and then Miss Minnie was very much interested in hearing what
Mr. Diamond said to his pupil, and how Rhoda liked Mr. Diamond, and what
she thought of him. And when it appeared that Rhoda had thought very
little about him at all, but considered him a very clever, learned
gentleman--perhaps a little stiff and grave, but not at all unkind--Miss
Minnie smiled to herself and said, "He is a little stiff and grave,
Rhoda. Not the kind of person to attract one very much, eh!"

And then tea was brought, and Rhoda sipped hers out of a delicate
porcelain cup, like those which Mrs. Errington had in her corner
cupboard. And there were some delicious cakes, which Rhoda was quite
natural enough to own she liked very much. And then Mrs. Bodkin came in,
and sat down beside her daughter; and finally, at Minnie's request, she
took Rhoda into the drawing-room, and played to her on the grand piano.

"Rhoda likes music, she says, mamma. But she has never heard a good
instrument. Do play her a bit of Mozart!"

"I am no great performer, my dear," said Mrs. Bodkin, opening the piano;
"but I keep up my playing on my daughter's account. She is not strong
enough to play for herself."

Minnie had her chair wheeled into the drawing-room, in order, as she
whispered to her mother, to enjoy Rhoda's face when she should hear the
music.

Rhoda sat by and listened, in a trance of delight, while Mrs. Bodkin
made the keys of the instrument delicately sound a minuet of Mozart,
and then give forth more volume of tone in "The Heavens are telling."
This was different, indeed, from the tinkling old harpsichord at home!
The music transported her. When it ceased she was breathing quickly, and
her eyes were full of tears. "Oh, how beautiful!" she faltered out.

"Why, child, you are a capital audience!" said Mrs. Bodkin, smiling
kindly.

Then it was time to go home. She was made to promise that she would come
again and see Minnie whenever her father would let her. She left Dr.
Bodkin's house in a very different frame of mind from that in which she
had entered it. Yet she was as silent on her way home as she had been in
the afternoon.

How happy gentlefolks must be, who always can have music, and flowers,
and talk in such soft voices, and are so polite in their manners, and so
dainty in their persons! She could not help contrasting the coarse,
rough ways at home with the smoothness and softness of the life she had
had a glimpse of at Dr. Bodkin's. She tried to hold fast in her memory
the pleasant sights and sounds of the day.

In this mood, half-enjoying, half-regretful, she arrived at her father's
house to find the little parlour full of people--besides her own family
and Powell there were two or three neighbours who joined in the
exercises--and a prayer-meeting just culminating in a long-drawn hymn,
bawled out with more zeal than sweetness by the little assembly.



CHAPTER IX.


Rhoda stood with her hand on the parlour-door for a minute or so. Little
Sarah, the servant-maid, who had admitted her into the house, and had
left the parlour in order to do so--for all the Maxfield household was
held bound to join in these weekly prayer-meetings--told her that the
hymn would be over directly. Rhoda felt shy of entering into the midst
of the people assembled, and of encountering the questions and
expressions of surprise which her unprecedented absence from the
evening's devotions would certainly occasion.

Presently the singing ceased. Rhoda ran as quickly and noiselessly as
she could along the passage, and half-way up the stairs. From her post
there she heard the neighbours go away, and the street-door close
heavily behind them. Now she might venture to slip down. Everyone was
gone. The house was quite still. She ran into the parlour, and found
herself face to face with David Powell.

Her Aunt Betty was piling the hymn-books in their place on the little
table where they stood. There was no one else in the room.

"Where's father?" asked Rhoda, hastily. Then she recollected herself,
and bade Mr. Powell "Good evening." He returned her salutation with his
usual gentleness, but with more than his usual gravity.

"Oh!" exclaimed Betty Grimshaw, looking round from the books. "It's you,
is it, Rhoda? Your father is gone with Mr. Gladwish to his house for a
bit. They have some business together. He'll be back by supper."

It very seldom happened that Maxfield left his house after dark. Still
such a thing had occurred once or twice. Mr. Gladwish, the shoemaker,
was a steward of the Methodist society, and Maxfield not unfrequently
had occasion to confer with him. Their business this evening was not so
pressing but that it might have been deferred. But Maxfield did not
choose to give Powell an opportunity of private conversation with
himself at that time; he wanted to see his way clearer before he took
the decided step of openly putting himself into opposition with the
practice of his brethren, and the advice of the preacher; and he knew
Powell well enough to be sure that evasions would not avail with him.
Therefore he had gone out as soon as the prayers were at an end.

"I must see to the supper," said Betty, and bustled off without another
word. Nothing would have kept her in Mr. Powell's society but the
masterful influence of her brother-in-law. She escaped to her haven of
refuge, the kitchen, where the moral atmosphere was not too rarefied for
the comfortable breathing of ordinary folks.

David Powell and Rhoda were left alone together. Rhoda made a little
half-timid, half-impatient movement of her shoulders. She wished Powell
gone, more heartily than she had ever done before in the course of her
acquaintance with him.

Powell stood, with his hands clasped and his eyes cast down, in deep
meditation.

At length Rhoda took courage to murmur a word or two about going to take
her cloak off. Aunt Betty would be back presently. If Mr. Powell didn't
mind for a minute or two----She was gliding towards the door, when his
voice stopped her.

"Tarry a little, Rhoda," said the preacher, looking up at her with his
lustrous, earnest eyes. "I have something on my soul to say to you."

Rhoda's eyes fell before his, as they habitually did now. She felt as
though he could read her heart; and she had something to hide in it. She
did not seat herself, but stood, with one hand on the wooden
mantelshelf, looking into the fire. In her other hand she held her
straw bonnet by its violet ribbon, and her waving brown hair shone in
the firelight.

"What is it, Mr. Powell?" she asked.

She spoke sharply, and her tones smote painfully on her hearer. He did
not understand that the sharpness in it was born of fear.

"Rhoda," he began, "my spirit has been much exercised on your behalf."

He paused; but she did not speak, only bent her head a little lower, as
she stood leaning in the same attitude.

"Rhoda, I fear your soul is unawakened. You are sweet and gentle, as a
dove or a lamb is gentle; but you have not the root of the matter as a
Christian hath it. The fabric is built on sand. Fair as it is, a breath
may overthrow it. There is but one sure foundation whereon to lay our
lives, and yours is not set upon it."

"I--I--try to be good," stammered Rhoda, in whom the consciousness of
much truth in what Powell was saying, struggled with something like
indignation at being thus reproved, with the sense of a painful shock
from this jarring discord coming to close the harmonious impressions of
her pleasant day, and with an inarticulate dread of what was yet in
store for her. "I say my prayers, and--and I don't think I'm so very
wicked, Mr. Powell. No one else thinks I am, but you."

"Oh, Rhoda! Oh, my child!" His voice grew tender as sad music, and, as
he went on speaking, all trace of diffidence and hesitation fell away,
and only the sincere purpose of the man shone in him clear as sunlight.
"My heart yearns with compassion over you. Are those the words of a
believing and repentant sinner? You 'try!' You 'say your prayers!' You
are 'not so wicked!' Rhoda, behold, I have an urgent message for you,
which you must hear!"

She started and looked round at him. He read her thought. "No earthly
message, Rhoda, and from no earthly being. Ah, child, the eager look
dies out of your eyes! Rhoda, do you ever think how much God loveth us?
How much he loveth you, poor perishing little bird, fluttering blindly
in the outer darkness of the world!--that darkness which comprehended
not the light from the beginning."

Rhoda's tears were now dropping fast. Her lip trembled as she repeated
once more, "I try--I do try to be good," with an almost peevish
emphasis.

"Nay, Rhoda, I must speak. In His hand all instruments are alike good
and serviceable. He has chosen me, even me, to call you to Him. However
much you may despise the Messenger, the message is sure, and of
unspeakable comfort."

"Oh, Mr. Powell, I don't despise you. Indeed I don't! I know you mean--I
know you are good. But I don't think there's any such great harm in
going to see a--a young lady who is too ill to go out. I'm sure she is a
very good young lady. I'm sure I do try to be good."

That was the sum of Rhoda's eloquence. She held fast by those few words
in a helpless way, which was at once piteous and irritating.

"Are you speaking in sincerity from the very bottom of your heart?"
asked Powell, with the invincible, patient gentleness which is born of a
strong will. "No, Rhoda; you know you are not. There is harm in
following our own inclinations, rather than the voice of the spirit
within us. There is harm in clinging to works--to anything we can do.
There is harm in neglecting the service of our Master to pleasure any
human being."

"I did forget that it was prayer-meeting night," admitted Rhoda, more
humbly than before. Her natural sweetness of temper was regaining the
ascendant, in proportion as her dread of what might be the subject of
Powell's reproving admonition decreased. She could bear to be told that
it was wrong to visit Minnie Bodkin. She should not like to be told so,
and she should refuse to believe it, but she could bear it; and she
began to believe that this visit was held to be the head and front of
her offending. Powell's next words undeceived her, and startled her
back into a paroxysm of mistrust and agitation.

"But it is not of your absence from prayer to-night that I would speak
now. You are entangling yourself in a snare. You are laying up stores of
sorrow for yourself and others. You are listening to the sweet voice of
temptation, and giving your conscience into the hand of the ungodly to
ruin and deface!" He made a little gesture towards the room overhead
with his hand, as he said that Rhoda was giving her conscience into the
hands of the ungodly.

"I don't know what you mean, Mr. Powell. And I--I don't think it's
charitable to speak so of a person--of persons that you know nothing
of."

She was entirely taken off her guard. Her head felt as if it were
whirling round, and the words she uttered seemed to come out of her
mouth without her will. Between fear and anger she trembled like a leaf
in the wind. She would have fled out of the room, but her strength
failed her. Her heart was beating so fast that she could scarcely
breathe. Her distress pained Powell to the heart; pained him so much, as
to dismay him with a vivid glimpse of the temptation that continually
lay in wait for him, to spare her, and soothe her, and cease from his
painful probing of her conscience. "Oh, there is a bone of the old man
in me yet!" he thought remorsefully. "Lord, Lord, strengthen me, or I
fall!"

"How hast thou counselled him that hath no wisdom? And how hast thou
plentifully declared the thing as it is?"

The remembrance of the lot he had drawn came into his mind, as an answer
to his mental prayer. It was natural that the words should recur to him
vividly at that moment, but he accepted their recurrence as an undoubted
inspiration from Heaven. The belief in such direct and immediate
communications was a vital part of his faith; and to have destroyed it
would, in great part, have paralysed the impetuous energy, and quenched
the burning enthusiasm, which carried away his hearers, and communicated
something of his own exaltation to the most torpid spirits.

He murmured a few words of fervent thanksgiving for the clear leading
which had been vouchsafed to him, and without an instant's hesitation
addressed the tearful, trembling girl beside him. "Listen to me, Rhoda.
If it be good for your soul's sake that I lay bare my heart before you,
and suffer sore in the doing of it, shall I shrink? God forbid! By His
help I will plentifully declare the thing as it is. I have watched you,
and your feelings have not been hid from me. No; nor your fears, and
sorrows, and hopes, and struggles. I have read them all so plainly, that
I must believe the Lord has given me a special insight in your case,
that I may call you unto Him with power. You are suffering, Rhoda, and
sorry; but you have not thrown your burden upon the Lord. You have set
up His creature as an idol in your soul, and have bowed down and
worshipped it. And you fancy, poor unwary lamb, that such love as yours
was never before felt by mortal, and that never did mortal so entirely
deserve it! And you say in your heart, 'Lo, this man talks of what he
knows not! It is easy for him!' Well--I tell you, Rhoda, that I too have
a heart for human love. I have eyes to see what is fair and lovely; and
fancies and desires, and passions. I love--there is a maiden whom I love
above all God's creatures. But, by His grace, I have overcome that love,
in so far as it perilled the higher love and the higher duty, which I
owe to my father in Heaven. I have wrestled sore, God knoweth. And He
hath helped me, as He always will help those who rely, not on their own
strength, but on His!"

Rhoda was hurried out of herself, carried away by the rush of his
eloquence, in whose powerful spell the mere words bore but a small part.
Eyes, voice, and gesture expressed the most absolute, self-forgetting
enthusiasm. The contagion of his burning sincerity drew a sincere
utterance from his hearer.

"But you talk as if it were a crime! Does anyone call you wicked and
godless, because you have human feelings? I never should call you so.
And, I believe, we were meant to love."

"To love? Ah, yes, Rhoda! To love for evermore, and in a measure we can
but faintly conceive here below. The young maiden I love is still dearer
to me than any other human being--it may be that even the angels in
Heaven know what it is to love one blessed spirit above the rest--but
her soul is more precious to me than her beauty, or her sweet ways, or
her happiness on earth. Oh, Rhoda, look upward! Yet a little while and
the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest, and there
cometh peace unspeakable. This earthly love is but a fleeting show. Can
you say that you connect it with your hope of Heaven and your faith in
God? Does he whom you love reverence the things you have been taught to
hold sacred? Is he awakened to a sense of sin? No! no! A thousand times,
no! Rhoda, for his sake--for the sake of that darkened soul, if not for
your own--yield not to the temptation which makes you untrue in word and
deed, and chills your worship, and weighs down the wings of your spirit!
Tell this beloved one that, although he were the very life-blood of your
heart, yet, if he seek not salvation, you will cast him from you."

Rhoda had sunk down, half-crouching, half-kneeling, with her arms upon a
chair, and her face bowed down upon her hands. She was crying bitterly,
but silently; but, at the preacher's last words, she moved her
shoulders, like one in pain, and uttered a little inarticulate sound.

Powell bent forward, listening eagerly. "I speak not as one without
understanding," he said, after an instant's pause. "I plentifully
declare the thing as it is, and as I know it. Your love----! Rhoda, your
little twinkling flame, compared to the passionate nature in me, is as
the faint light of a taper to a raging fire--as a trickling water-brook
to the deep, dreadful sea! Child, child, you know not the power of the
Lord. His voice has said to my unquiet soul, 'Be still,' and it obeys
Him. Shall He not speak peace to your purer, clearer spirit also? Shall
He not carry you, as a lamb, in His bosom? Now--it may be even now, as I
speak to you, that His angels are about you, moving your heart towards
Him. Rhoda, Rhoda, will you grieve those messengers of mercy? Will you
turn away from that unspeakable love?"

The girl suddenly lifted her face. It was a tear-stained, wistfully
imploring face, and yet it wore a singular expression of timid
obstinacy. She was struggling to ward off the impression his words were
making on her. She was unwilling, and afraid to yield to it.

But when she looked up and saw his countenance so pale, so earnest,
without one trace of anger or impatience, or any feeling save
profoundest pity, and sweetness, and sorrow, her heart melted. The right
chord was touched. She could not be moved by compassion for herself, but
she was penetrated by sorrow for him.

In an impulse of pitying sympathy she exclaimed, "Oh, don't be so sorry
for me, Mr. Powell! I will try! I will do what you say, if----"

The door opened, and her father stood in the room. Rhoda sprang from her
knees, rushed past him, and out at the open door.

"Man, man, what have you done?" cried Powell, wringing his hands. Then
he sat down and hid his face.

Jonathan Maxfield stood looking at him with a heavy frown. "We must have
no more o' this," he said harshly.



CHAPTER X.


The time which elapsed between Rhoda's first visit to Minnie Bodkin and
the beginning of February--February, which was to carry Algernon
Errington away to the great metropolis--was a vexed and stormy one for
the Maxfield household.

Jonathan Maxfield had come to a downright quarrel with the preacher--or
to something as near to a quarrel as can be attained, where the violence
and vituperation are all on one side--and had ordered Powell out of his
house. This was a serious step, and was sure to be searchingly
canvassed. Maxfield absented himself from the next class-meeting on the
plea of ill-health. There was a general knowledge in the class and
throughout the Society that there had been a breach, and many members
began to take sides rather warmly.

Maxfield was not a personally popular man, but he had considerable
influence amongst his fellow Wesleyans; the influence of wealth, and a
strong will, and the long habit of being a leading personage. David
Powell, on the other hand, was not heartily liked by many of the
congregation.

The Whitford Methodists had slid into a sleepy, comfortable state of
mind in their obscure little corner. They acquired no new members, and
lost no old ones. Even the well-devised machinery of Methodism, so
calculated to enforce movement and quicken attention, had grown somewhat
rusty in Whitford. Frequent change of preachers is a powerful spur to
sluggish hearers; but even this--among the fundamental peculiarities of
Methodism--was very seldom applied to the Whitfordians. Circumstances,
and their own apathy, had brought it to pass that two elderly
preachers--steady, jog-trot old roadsters--had alternately succeeded
each other in exhorting and preaching to this quiet flock for several
years. There was, besides, Nick Green, foreman to Mr. Gladwish, the
shoemaker, who enjoyed the rank of local preacher for a time, but who
finally seceded from the main body, and drew with him half-a-dozen or so
of the more zealous or excitable worshippers, who subscribed to hire a
room over a corn-dealer's storehouse in Lady Lane, and by the stentorian
vehemence of this Sunday devotion there speedily acquired the title of
Ranters.

Into this sleepy, comfortable Whitford society David Powell had burst
with his startling energy and fiery eloquence, and it was impossible to
be sleepy and comfortable any longer. No one likes to be suddenly roused
from a doze, and Powell had awakened Whitford as with the sound of a
trumpet. Yet, after the effects of the first start and shock had
subsided, the Methodists began to take pride in the attention which
their preacher attracted. Their little chapel was crowded. His
field-preaching drew throngs of people from all the country side.
Instead of being merely an obscure little knot of Dissenters, about whom
no outsider troubled himself, they felt themselves to be objects of
general observation. Old men, who had heard Wesley preach half a century
ago, declared that this Welshman had inherited the mantle of their
founder.

But then came, by no slow or doubtful degrees, the discovery that David
Powell had inherited more than the traditional eloquence of John Wesley;
and that, like that wonderful man, he spared neither himself nor others
in the service of his Master.

He set up a standard of conduct which dismayed many, even of the leading
Methodists, who did not share that exaltation of spirit which supported
Powell in his disdain of earthly comforts. And the awful sincerity of
his character was found by many to be absolutely intolerable.

He made a strong effort to revive the early morning services, which had
quite fallen into desuetude at Whitford. What! Go to pray in the cold
little meeting-house at five o'clock on a winter's morning? There was
scarcely one of the congregation whose health would allow of such a
proceeding.

Then his matter-of-fact interpretations of much of the Gospel teaching
was excessively startling. He would coolly expect you to deprive
yourself not only of superfluities, but of necessaries--such, for
instance, as three meals of flesh-meat a day, which are clearly
indispensable for health--in order to give to the poor.

It must be owned that he practised his own precepts in this respect; and
that he literally gave away all he had, beyond the trifling sum which
was needful to clothe him with decency, and to feed him in a manner
which the Whitfordians considered reprehensibly inadequate. Such
asceticism savoured almost of monkery. It was really wrong. At least it
was to be hoped that it was wrong; otherwise----!

So the awakening preacher by no means had all his flock on his side,
when they suspected him to be in opposition to old Max.

Jonathan's mind had been, as he expressed it, greatly exercised
respecting his daughter. He was drawn different ways by contending
impulses.

To speak to Rhoda openly; to send her to Duckwell, out of Algernon's
way; to let things go on as they were going; (for was not Rhoda's
reception by the Bodkins manifestly a preliminary step to her permanent
rise in the social scale?) to talk openly to Algernon, and demand his
intentions: all these plans presented themselves to his mind in turn,
and each in turn appeared the most desirable.

Jonathan was not an irresolute man in general, because he never doubted
his own perfect competency to deal with circumstances as they arose in
his life. But now he felt his ignorance. He did not understand the ways
of gentlefolks. He might injure his daughter by his attempt to serve
her. And although he had fits of self-assertion (during which he made
much of the value of his own money and of Rhoda's merits), all did not
avail to free his spirit from the subjection it was in to "gentlefolks."

Again, he was urged not to seem to distrust the Erringtons by a strong
feeling of opposition to Powell. Powell had warned him against letting
Rhoda associate with them. Powell had even gone so far as to reprehend
him for having done so. To prove Powell wholly wrong and presumptuous,
and himself wholly right and sagacious, was a very powerful motive with
Maxfield.

Then, too, the one soft place in his heart contributed, no less than the
above-mentioned feelings, to make him pause before coming to a decisive
explanation with the Erringtons, which might--yes, he could not help
seeing that it might--result in a total breach between his family and
them, and this increased his hesitation as to the line of conduct he
should pursue. For the conviction had been growing on him daily that
Rhoda's happiness was seriously involved; and Rhoda's happiness was a
tremendously high stake to play.

The discussion between himself and Powell did not trouble Maxfield so
much. The world--his little world, as important to him as other little
worlds are to the titled, or the rich, or the fashionable, or the
famous--supposed him to be greatly chagrined and exercised in spirit on
this account. And people sympathised with him, or blamed him, according
to their prejudices, their passions, or--sometimes--their convictions.
But the truth was, old Max cared little about being at odds with the
preacher, or with the congregation, or with both.

He had been an important personage among the Whitford Methodists, all
through the old comfortable days of sleepy concord. And was he now to
become a less important personage in these new times of "awakening?"
Better war than an ignominious peace!

Nay, there came at last to be a talk of expelling him from the Methodist
Society, unless he would confess his fault towards the preacher, and
amend it. Maxfield had no lack of partisans in Whitford, as has been
stated; but then there was the superintendent! In those days the
superintendent (or, as some old-fashioned Methodists continued to call
him, in the original Wesleyan phrase, the assistant) of the circuit in
which Whitford was situated, was a man of great zeal and sincere
enthusiasm.

For those unacquainted with the mechanism of Methodism, it may be well
briefly to state what were this person's functions.

Long before John Wesley's death, the whole country was divided into
circuits, in which the itinerant preachers made their rounds; and of
each circuit the whole spiritual and temporal business--so far as they
were connected with the aims and interests of Methodism--was under the
regulation of the assistant (afterwards styled the superintendent),
whose office it was to admit or expel members, take lists of the society
at Easter, hold quarterly meetings, visit the classes quarterly, preside
at the love-feasts, and so forth.

The period for the superintendent's next visit to Whitford was rapidly
approaching. Maxfield weighed the matter, and tried to forecast the
result of a formal reference of the disagreement between himself and
Powell to this man's judgment. Had this superintendent, Mr. John Bateson
by name, been a Whitford man, one of the old, comfortable, narrow-minded
tradesmen over whom "old Max" had exercised supremacy in things
Methodistical for years, Maxfield would have felt no doubt but that the
matter would have ended in an unctuous admonition to Powell to moderate
his unseemly excess of zeal, and in the establishment of himself, more
firmly than ever, in his place as leader of the congregation.

But Mr. Bateson could not be relied on to take this sensible view. He
was one of the new-fangled, upsetting, meddling sort, and would
doubtless declare David Powell to have been performing his bounden duty,
in being instant in season and out of season.

"So that," thought Jonathan, "I should not be master in my own house!"

And if he included in the notion of being master in his own house the
power of shutting out his fellow Methodists--preacher and all--from the
knowledge of his most private family affairs, the conclusion was a
pretty just one. Moreover, it was one to which the very constitution of
Methodism pointed _à priori_. But old Maxfield had never in his life
been brought into collision with any one who carried out his principles
to their legitimate and logical results, as did David Powell.

Maxfield's creed was a thing to take out and air, and acknowledge at
chapel, and prayer-meetings, and field-preachings, and such like
occasions; whilst his practice was--well, it certainly was not "too
bright or good for human nature's daily food."

David Powell's uncompromising interpretation of certain precepts was
intolerable to many besides Maxfield. But the majority of the Whitford
Methodists looked forward to Powell's removal to another sphere of
action. His stay among them had already been longer than was usual with
the itinerant preachers; but it was understood to have been specially
prolonged, in consequence of the abundant fruits brought forth by his
ministration in Whitford. Still he would go, sooner or later, and then
there would be a relaxation of the strong tension in which men's minds
and consciences had been strained by the strange influence of this
preacher.

But old Maxfield thought it very probable that, before leaving Whitford,
the preacher might compass his (Maxfield's) expulsion from the Methodist
body.

Then he took a great resolution.

One Sunday, Jonathan, James, and Rhoda Maxfield, together with Elizabeth
Grimshaw, were seen at the morning service in the abbey church of St.
Chad's, and again in the afternoon.

Dr. Bodkin himself stared down from his pulpit at the Methodist family.
Those of the congregation to whom they were known by sight--and these
were the great majority--found their devotions quite disturbed by this
unexpected addition to their number.

The Maxfields kept their eyes on their prayer-books, and, outwardly,
took no heed of the attention they excited. Old Jonathan and his son
James looked pretty much as usual; Rhoda trembled, and blushed, and
looked painfully shy whenever the forms of the service required her to
rise, so as to bring her face above the pew (those were the days of
pews) and within easy range of the curious eyes of the congregation.

But Betty Grimshaw held her head aloft, and uttered the responses in a
loud voice, and without glancing at her book, as one to whom the Church
of England service was entirely familiar. Betty was heartily delighted
with the family conversion from the errors of Methodism, and supported
her brother-in-law in it with great warmth. Her Methodism had, in truth,
been a mere piece of conformity, for "peace and quietness' sake," as she
avowed with much candour. And she was fond of saying that she had been
"bred up to the Church;" by which phrase it must not be understood that
Betty intended to convey to her hearers that she had entered on an
ecclesiastical career.

If the sensation created in the abbey church by the Maxfields'
appearance there was great, the surprise and excitement caused by their
absence from the Methodist chapel was still greater. By the afternoon
of that same Sunday it was known to all the Wesleyans that old Max, with
his family, had been seen at St. Chad's. No one deemed it strange that
the whole family should have seceded in a body from their own place of
worship. It appeared quite natural to all his old acquaintances that,
whither Jonathan Maxfield went, his son, and his daughter, and his
sister-in-law should follow him. It is probable that, had he turned Jew
or Mohammedan, they would equally have taken it for granted that his
conversion involved that of the rest of his family, which opinion was
certainly complimentary to old Max's force of character.

And such force of character as consists in pursuing one's own way
single-mindedly, old Max undoubtedly possessed. A good, solid belief in
oneself, tempered by an inability to see more than one side of a
question, will cleave its way through the world like a wedge. We have
seen, however, that into Maxfield's mind a doubt of himself on one
subject had entered. And, as doubt will do, it weakened his action very
considerably as regarded that subject; but on all other matters he was
himself, and perhaps infused an extra amount of obstinacy and
self-assertion into his behaviour, as though to counterbalance the one
weak point.

Towards his old co-religionists he showed himself inflexible. Mr.
Bateson, the superintendent, duly arrived, but Jonathan refused to see
him, and walked out of his shop when the superintendent walked into it.
Maxfield was grimly triumphant, and kept out of the reach of any
expression of displeasure from Mr. Bateson, if displeasure he felt.

His defection was undoubtedly a blow to the Methodist community in
Whitford. And much indignation, not loud but deep, was aroused in
consequence against Powell, who was looked upon as the prime cause of
it. What if the preacher did possess awakening eloquence and burning
zeal to save sinners? Here was Jonathan Maxfield, a warm man, a
respectable and a thriving man, an ancient pillar of the Society, lost
to it beyond recall by Powell's means!

And by whom did Powell seek to replace such a man as old Max? By Richard
Gibbs, the groom--brother of Minnie Bodkin's maid--who had hitherto
enjoyed a reputation for unmitigated blackguardism; by Sam Smith, the
cobbler, once drunken, now drunken no longer; by stray vagrants who were
converted at his field-preaching, and by the poorest poor, and
wretchedest wretched, generally!

And the worst of it was, that one could not openly find fault with all
this. David Powell would, with mild yet fervent earnestness, quote some
New Testament text, which stopped one's mouth, if it didn't change
one's opinion. As if the words ought to be interpreted in that literal
way! Well, he would go away before long; that was some comfort.

The period during which this rift in the Methodist community was
widening, was a time of peculiar pleasantness to some of our Whitford
acquaintance. Of these was Minnie Bodkin. By degrees the habit had
established itself among a few of her friends, of meeting every Saturday
afternoon in Dr. Bodkin's drawing-room.

Mr. Diamond usually made one at these meetings. Saturday was a
half-holiday at the Grammar School, and he was thus at leisure. He had
grown more sociable of late, and Mrs. Errington was convinced that this
change was entirely owing to her advice. There was Algernon, whose
sparkling spirits made him invaluable. There was Mrs. Errington, who was
made welcome, as other mothers sometimes are, in right of the merits of
her offspring. There was Miss Chubb very often. There was the Reverend
Peter Warlock, nearly always. And of all people in the world there would
often be seen Rhoda Maxfield, modestly ensconced behind Minnie's couch,
or half hidden by the voluminous folds of Mrs. Errington's gown.

No sooner had Mrs. Errington heard of Rhoda's first visit to Dr.
Bodkin's house, than she took all the credit of the invitation to
herself. She decided that it must certainly be due to her report of
Rhoda. And--partly because she really wished to be kind to the girl,
partly because it seemed pretty clear that Minnie was resolved to have
her own way about seeing more of her new _protégée_, and Mrs. Errington
was minded that this should come to pass with her co-operation, so as to
retain her post of first patroness--the good lady fostered the intimacy
by all means in her power. The Italians have a proverb, to the effect
that there are persons who will take credit to themselves for the
sunshine in July. Mrs. Errington would complacently have assumed the
merit of the whole solar system.

Now, at these Saturdays, there grew and strengthened themselves many
conflicting feelings, and hopes, and illusions. It was a game at cross
purposes, to which none of the players held the key except Algernon.

That young gentleman's perceptions, unclouded and uncoloured by strong
feeling, were pretty clear and accurate. However, the period of his
departure was fast approaching, and, "after me, the deluge," might be
taken to epitomise his sentiments in view of possible complications
which threatened to arise among his own intimate circle of friends. To
whatever degree the time might seem to be out of joint, Algy would never
torment himself with the fancy that he was born to set it right. "If
there is to be a mess, I am better out of it," was his ingenuous
reflection.

Meanwhile, whatever thoughts might be flitting about under his bright
curls, nothing, save the most winning good-humour, the most insouciant
hilarity, ever peeped for an instant out of his frank, shining eyes. And
the weeks went by, and February was at hand.



CHAPTER XI.


In how few cases would the power to "see oursel's as ithers see us" be
other than a very malevolent and wicked fairy-like gift! And, perhaps,
the discovery of the real reasons why our friends like us, would not be
the least mortifying part of the revelation.

Now, the Bodkins liked Miss Chubb. But they did not like her for her
manners, her knowledge of the usages of polite society, her highly
respectable clerical connections, or the little gummed-down curls on her
forehead; on all of which Miss Chubb prided herself.

Dr. Bodkin liked her principally because she was an old acquaintance. It
pleased him to see various people, and to do and say various things
daily, often for no better reason than that he had seen the same people,
and done and said the same things yesterday, and throughout a long,
backward-reaching chain of yesterdays. Mrs. Bodkin liked her because
she was good-natured, and neither strong-minded nor strong-willed enough
to domineer over her. Minnie liked her because she found her
peculiarities very amusing.

"Miss Chubb has the veriest rag-bag of a mind," said Minnie, "and pulls
out of it, every now and then, unexpected scraps of ignorance as other
folks display bits of knowledge, in the oddest way!" She could often
endure to listen to Miss Chubb's chatter, when the talk of wiser people
irritated her nerves. And Minnie would speak with Miss Chubb on many
subjects more unreservedly than she did with any other of her
acquaintances.

"What Minnie Bodkin can find in that affected old maid, to have her so
much with her when she is so reserved and stand-offish to--to quite
superior persons, and nearer her own age, I am at a loss to understand!"
Violet McDougall would say, tossing her thin spiral ringlets. And Rose,
the bitterer of the two, would make answer, raspingly: "Why, Miss Chubb
toadies her, my dear. That's the secret. Poor Minnie! Of course one
wishes to make every allowance for her afflicted state; but there are
limits. Miss Chubb is almost a fool, and that suits poor dear Minnie's
domineering spirit."

Unconscious of these and similar comments, Minnie and Miss Chubb
continued to be very good friends.

There sat Miss Chubb in Dr. Bodkin's drawing-room one Saturday about
noon; her round face beaming, and her fat fingers covered with huge
old-fashioned rings, busily engaged in some bright-coloured worsted
work. She had come early, and was to have luncheon with Mrs. Bodkin and
Minnie, and was a good deal elated by the privilege, although she did
her best to repress any ebullition of her good spirits, and to assume
the languishing air which she chose to consider peculiarly genteel.

Minnie and Miss Chubb were alone. Mrs. Bodkin was "busy." Mrs. Bodkin
was nearly always "busy." She superintended the machinery of her
household very effectively. But she was one of those persons whose
labours meet with scant recognition. Dr. Bodkin had a vague idea that
his wife liked to be fussing about in kitchen and storeroom, and that
she did a great deal more than was necessary, but, "then, you see, it
amused her." He very much liked order, punctuality, economy, and good
cookery; and since it "amused" Laura to supply him with these, the
combination was at once fortunate and satisfactory.

"My dear Minnie," said Miss Chubb, raising her eyes to the ceiling with
a languishing glance, which would have been more effective had it not
been invariably accompanied by an odd wrinkling up of the nose, "did you
ever, in all your days hear of anything so extraordinary as the
appearance of those Methodist people at church on Sunday?"

"It was strange."

"Strange! My dear love, it was amazing. But it ought to be a matter of
congratulation to us all, to see Dissenters embracing the canons of the
Church! And the Methodists, especially, are such dreadful people. I
believe they think nothing of foaming at the mouth, and going into
convulsions, in the open chapel. I wonder if those Maxfields felt
anything of the kind on Sunday? It would have been a terrible thing, my
dear, if they had had to be carried out on stretchers, or anything of
that sort. What would Mr. Bodkin have said?"

"I don't think there's any fear of papa's sermons throwing anybody into
convulsions."

"Of course not, my dear child. Pray don't imagine that I hinted at such
a thing. No, no; Mr. Bodkin is ever gentleman-like, ever soothing and
composing, in the pulpit. But people, you know, who have been used to
convulsions--they really might not be able to leave them off all at
once. You may smile, my dear Minnie; but I assure you that such things
have been known to become quite chronic. And, once a thing gets to be
chronic----"

Miss Chubb left her sentence unfinished, as she often did; but remained
with an expressive countenance, which suggested horrible results from
"things getting to be chronic."

"It seems an odd caprice of Fate," said Minnie, who had been pursuing
her own reflections, "that, no sooner do I make Rhoda Maxfield's
acquaintance, for the sole reason that she is a Methodist, than she and
her family turn into orthodox church people."

"People will say you converted her, my dear."

"I daresay they will, as it isn't true."

"Now, I wonder who did convert them."

"If you care to know, I think I can tell you that the real reason why
Maxfield left the Wesleyans, was a quarrel he had with their preacher.
My maid Jane has a brother who belongs to the Society; and he gave her
an account of the matter."

"Dear, dear! You don't say so! Of course the preacher is furious? Those
kind of Ranters are very violent sometimes. I remember, when I was quite
a girl, a man on a tub, who used to scream and use the most dreadful
language. So much so, that poor papa forbade our going within earshot of
him."

"No; David Powell is not furious. I am told that he astonished some of
the more bigoted of his flock, by reminding them that they ought to
have charity enough to believe that a man may worship acceptably in any
Christian community."

"Did he really? Now, that positively was very proper of the man, and
very right. Quite right, indeed."

"So that I think we may assume that he is on the road to Heaven,
Methodist though he be."

"Oh, Minnie!"

"Does that shock you, Miss Chubb?"

"Well, my dear, yes; it does, rather. My family has been connected with
the Church for generations. And--one doesn't like to hear Dr. Bodkin's
daughter talk of being sure that a Dissenter is on the road to Heaven."

Minnie lay back on her sofa, and looked at Miss Chubb complacently
bending over her knitting. Gradually the look of amused scorn on
Minnie's face softened into melancholy thoughtfulness. She wondered how
David Powell would have met such an observation as Miss Chubb's. He had
to deal with even narrower and more ignorant minds than hers. What
method did he take to touch them? To Minnie it all seemed very hopeless,
so long as men and women continued to be such as those she saw around
her. And yet this preacher did move them very powerfully. If she could
but meet him face to face, and have speech with him!

There was one person to whom she was strongly impelled to detail her
perplexities, and to express her fluctuating feelings and opinions on
more momentous subjects than she had ever yet spoken with him upon. But
there were a hundred little counter impulses pulling against this strong
one, and holding it in check.

Miss Chubb's voice broke in upon her meditations by uttering loudly the
name that was in Minnie's mind.

"My dear, I think it's quite a case with Mr. Diamond."

Minnie's heart gave a great bound; and the deep, burning blush which was
so rare and meant so much with her, covered her face from brow to chin.
Miss Chubb's eyes were fixed on her knitting. When, after a short pause,
she raised them to seek some response, Minnie was quite pale again. She
met Miss Chubb's gaze with bright, steady eyes, a thought more wide open
than usual.

"How do you mean 'a case'?" she asked carelessly.

"I mean, my dear, a case of falling, or having fallen, in love."

The white lids drooped a little over the beautiful eyes, and a look,
partly of pleasure, partly of fluttered surprise, swept over Minnie's
face, as the breeze sweeps over a corn-field, touching it with shifting
lights and shadows.

"What nonsense!" she said, in a little uncertain voice, unlike her usual
clear tones.

"Now, my dear Minnie, I must beg to differ. I might give up my judgment
to you on a point of--of--" (Miss Chubb hesitated a long time here, for
she found it extremely difficult to think of any subject on which she
didn't know best)--"on a point of the dead languages, for instance. But
on this point I maintain that I have a certain penetration and coo-doyl.
And I say that it is a case with Mr. Diamond and little Rhoda--at least
on his side. And of course she would be ready to jump out of her skin
for joy, only I don't think the idea has entered into her head as yet.
How should it, in her station? Of course----. But as to him----! If I
ever read a human countenance in my life, he admires her--oh, over head
and ears! To see him staring at her from behind your sofa when she sits
by Mrs. Errington----! No, no, my dear; depend upon it, I am correct.
And I don't know but what it might do very well, because, although
educated, Mr. Diamond is a man of no birth. And the girl is pretty, and
will have all old Max's savings. So that really----"

Thus, and much more in the same disjointed fashion, Miss Chubb.

Minnie felt like one who is conscious of having swallowed a deadly but
slow poison. For the present there is no pain; only a horrible watchful
apprehension of the moment when the pain shall begin.

Some faculties of her mind seemed curiously numb. But the active part of
it accepted the truth of what had been said, unhesitatingly.

Miss Chubb paused at last breathless.

"You look fagged, Minnie," she said. "Have I tired you? Mrs. Bodkin will
scold me if I have."

"No; you have not tired me. But I think I will go and be quiet in my own
room. Tell mamma I don't want any lunch. Please ring for Jane."

Mrs. Bodkin came into the room in her quick, noiseless way. She had
heard the bell. Minnie reiterated her wish to be wheeled into her own
room, and left quiet. She spoke briefly and peremptorily, and her desire
was promptly complied with.

"I never cross her, or talk to her much when she is not feeling well,"
whispered Mrs. Bodkin to Miss Chubb; thereby checking a lively stream of
suggestions, regrets, and inquiries which the spinster was beginning to
pour forth in her most girlish manner.

"There, my darling," said her mother, preparing to close the door of
Minnie's room softly. "If any of the Saturday people come I shall say
you are not well enough to see them to-day."

"No!" cried Minnie, with sharp decisiveness. "I wish to come into the
drawing-room by-and-by. Don't send them away. It will be Algy's last
Saturday. I mean to come into the drawing-room."



CHAPTER XII.


Minnie, during the hour's quiet solitude which was hers before the
Saturday guests began to arrive, got her thoughts into some clear order,
and began to look things in the face. She did not look far ahead; merely
kept her attention fixed on that which the next few hours might hold for
her. She pictured to herself what she would say, and even how she would
look. Cost what it might, no trace of her real feelings should appear.
Her heart might bleed, but none should see the wound. She could not yet
tell herself how deep the hurt was. She would not look at it, would not
probe it. Not yet! That should be afterwards; perhaps in the long dim
hours of her sleepless night. Not yet!

She put on her panoply of pride, and braced up her nerves to a pitch of
strained excitement. And then, after all, the effort seemed to have been
wasted! There was no fight to be fought, no struggle to be made. The
social atmosphere among her visitors that Saturday afternoon was as
mildly relaxing as the breath of a misty woodland landscape in autumn,
and Minnie felt her Spartan mood melting beneath it.

Whether it were due to the influence of Dr. Bodkin's presence (the
doctor usually spent the Saturday half-holiday in his study, preparing
the morrow's sermon; or, it may be, occasionally reading the newspaper,
or even taking a nap)--or whether it were the shadow of Algernon's
approaching departure, the fact was that the little company appeared
depressed, and attuned to melancholy.

Rhoda Maxfield was not there. She had privately told Algy that she could
not bear to be present among his friends on that last Saturday. "They
will be saying 'Good-bye' to you, and--and all that," said the girl,
with quivering lips. "And I know I should burst out crying before them
all." Whereupon Algy had eagerly commended her prudent resolution to
stay at home.

No other of the accustomed frequenters of the Bodkins' drawing-room was
absent. The doctor's was the only unusual presence in the little
assembly. He stood in his favourite attitude on the hearth, and surveyed
the company as if they had been a class called up for examination. Mr.
Diamond sat beside Miss Bodkin's sofa, and was, perhaps, a thought more
grave and silent than usual.

Minnie lay with half-closed eyes on her sofa, and felt almost ashamed
of the proud resolutions she had been making. It seemed very natural to
be silently miserable. No one appeared to expect her to be anything
else. If she had even begun to cry, as Miss Chubb did when Algernon went
to the piano and sang "Auld Lang Syne," it would have excited no
wondering remark.

Pathos was not Algy's forte in general, but circumstances gave a
resistless effect to his song. The tears ran down Miss Chubb's cheeks,
so copiously, as to imperil the little gummed curls that adorned her
face. Even the Reverend Peter Warlock, who was a little jealous of
Algy's high place in Miss Bodkin's good graces, exhibited considerable
feeling on this occasion, and joined in the chorus "For au--auld la--ang
syne, my friends," with his deep bass voice, which had a hollow tone
like the sound of the wind in the belfry of St. Chad's.

Here Mrs. Errington's massive placidity became useful. She broke the
painful pause which ensued upon the last note of the song, by asking Dr.
Bodkin, in a sonorous voice, if he happened to be acquainted with Lord
Seely's remarkably brilliant pamphlet on the dog-tax.

"No," replied the doctor, shaking his head slowly and emphatically, as
who should say that he challenged society to convict him of any such
acquaintance.

It did not at all matter to Mrs. Errington whether he had or had not
read the pamphlet in question, the existence of which, indeed, had only
come to her own knowledge that morning, by the chance inspection of an
old newspaper that had been hunted out to wrap some of Algy's belongings
in. What the good lady had at heart was the introduction of Lord Seely's
name, in whose praise she forthwith began a flowing discourse.

This brought Miss Chubb, figuratively speaking, to her legs. She always
a little resented Mrs. Errington's aristocratic pretensions, and was
accustomed to oppose to them the fashionable reminiscences of her sole
London season, which had been passed in an outwardly smoke-blackened and
inwardly time-tarnished house in Manchester Square, whereof the upper
floors had been hired furnished for a term by the Right Reverend the
Bishop of Plumbunn. And the bishop's lady had "chaperoned" Miss Chubb to
such gaieties as seemed not objectionable to the episcopal mind. As the
rose-scent of youth still clung to the dry and faded memories of that
time, Miss Chubb always recurred to them with pleasure.

Having first carefully wiped away her tears by the method of pressing
her handkerchief to her eyes and cheeks as one presses blotting-paper to
wet ink, so as not to disturb the curls, Miss Chubb plunged, with happy
flexibility of mood, into the midst of a rout at Lady Tubville's, nor
paused until she had minutely described five of the dresses worn on that
occasion, including her own and the bishopess's, from shoe to
head-dress.

Mrs. Errington came in ponderously. "Tubville? I don't know the name. It
isn't in Debrett?"

"And the supper!" pursued Miss Chubb, ignoring Debrett. "Such
refinement, together with such luxury--! It was a banquet for
Lucretius."

"What, what?" exclaimed the doctor in his sharp, scholastic key. He had
been conversing in a low voice with Mr. Warlock, but the Latin name
caught his ear.

"I am speaking of a supper, Dr. Bodkin, at the house of a leader of
tong. I never shall forget it. Although I didn't eat much of it, to be
sure. Just a sip of champagne, and a taste of--of--What do you call
that delightful thing, with the French name, that they give at ball
suppers? Vo--vo--What is it?"

"Vol-au-vent?" suggested Algy, at a venture.

"Ah! vol-o-voo. Yes; you will excuse my correcting you, Algernon, but
that is the French pronunciation. Just one taste of vol-o-voo was all
that I partook of; but the elegance--the plate, the exotic bouquets, and
the absolute paraphernalia of wax-lights! It was a scene for young
Romance to gloat on!"

"But what had Lucretius to do with it?" persisted the doctor.

Miss Chubb looked up, and shook her forefinger archly.

"Now, Dr. Bodkin, I will not be catechised; you can't give me an
imposition, you know. And as to Lucretius, beyond the fact that he was a
Roman emperor, who ate and drank a great deal, I honestly own that I
know very little about him."

This time the doctor was effectually silenced. He stood with his eyes
rolling from Mr. Diamond to the curate, and from the curate to Algy, as
though mutely protesting against the utterance of such things under the
very roof of the grammar school. But he said not a syllable.

Mr. Diamond had looked at Minnie with an amused smile, expecting to meet
an answering glance of amusement at Miss Chubb's speech. But the fringed
eyelids hung heavily over the beautiful dark eyes, which were wont to
meet his own with such quick sympathy. Mr. Diamond felt a little shock
of disappointment. Without giving himself much account of the matter, he
had come to consider Miss Bodkin and himself as the only two persons in
the little coterie who had an intellectual point of view in common on
many topics. The circumstance that Miss Bodkin was a very beautiful and
interesting woman, certainly added a flattering charm to this communion
of minds. He had almost grown to look upon her attention and sympathy as
peculiarly his own--things to which he had a right. And the unsmiling,
listless face which now met his gaze, gave him the same blank feeling
that we experience on finding a well-known window, accustomed to present
gay flowers to the passers-by, all at once grown death-like with a
down-drawn ghastly blind.

Mr. Diamond looked at Minnie again, and was struck with the expression
of suffering on her face. He knew she disliked being condoled with about
her health; so he said gently, "I think Errington's departure is
depressing us all. Even Miss Bodkin looks dull."

Minnie lifted her eyelids now, and her wan look of suffering was rather
enhanced by the view of those bright, wistful eyes.

"I think Errington is an enviable fellow," continued Mr. Diamond.

"So do I. He is going away."

"That's a hard saying for us, who are to remain behind, Miss Bodkin! But
I meant--and I think you know that I meant--he is enviable because he
will be so much regretted."

"I don't know that he will be 'so much regretted.'"

"Surely----Why, one fair lady has even been shedding tears!"

"Oh, Miss Chubb? Yes; but that proves very little. The good soul is
always overstocked with sentiment, and will use any friend as a
waste-pipe to get rid of her superfluous emotion."

"Well, I should have made no doubt that you would be sorry, Miss
Bodkin."

"Sorry! Yes; I am sorry. That is to say, I shall miss Algernon. He is so
clever, and bright, and gay, and--different from all our Whitford
mortals. But for himself, I think one ought to be glad. Papa says, and
you say, and I say myself, that his journey to London on such slender
encouragement is a wild-goose chase. But, after all, why not? Wild geese
must be better to chase than tame ones."

"Not so easy to catch, nor so well worth the catching, though," said Mr.
Diamond, smiling.

"I said nothing about catching. The hunting is the sport. If a good fat
goose had been all that was wanted, Mr. Filthorpe, of Bristol, offered
him that; and even, I believe, ready roasted. But--if I were a man, I
think I would rather hunt down my wild goose for myself."

"You had better not let Errington hear your theory about the pleasures
of wild-goose hunting."

"Because he is apt enough for the sport already?"

"N--not precisely. But he would take advantage of your phrase to
characterise any hunting which it suited him to undertake, and thus give
an air of impulse and romance to, perhaps, a very prosaic ambition, very
deliberately pursued."

"I wonder why----," said Minnie, and then stopped suddenly.

"Yes! You wonder why?"

"No, I wonder no longer. I think I understand."

"Miss Bodkin is pleased to be oracular," said Mr. Diamond, with a
careless smile; and then he moved away towards the piano, where Mrs.
Bodkin was playing a quaint sonata of Clementi, and stood listening with
a composed, attentive face. Nevertheless, he felt some curiosity about
the scope of Minnie's unfinished sentence.

The sentence, if finished, would have run thus: "I wonder why you are so
hard on Algernon!" But with the utterance of the first words an
explanation of Diamond's severe judgment darted into her mind. Might he
not have some feeling of jealousy towards Algernon? (Miss Chubb's words
were lighting up many things. Probably the good little woman had never
in her life before said anything of such illuminating power.) Yes,
Diamond must be jealous. Algernon had unrivalled opportunities of
attracting pretty Rhoda's attention. Nay, had he not attracted it
already? Minnie recalled little words, little looks, little blushes,
which seemed to point to the real nature of Rhoda's feelings for
Algernon. Rhoda did not--no; she surely did not--care for Matthew
Diamond. Minnie had a momentary elation of heart as she thus assured
herself, and at the same time she felt an impulse of scorn for the girl
who could disregard the love of such a man, as though it were a
valueless trifle. But, then, did Rhoda know? did Rhoda guess? And then
Minnie, suddenly checking her eager mental questioning in mid-career,
turned her fiery scorn against herself for her pitiful weakness.

As she lay there so graceful and outwardly tranquil, whilst the studied,
passionless turns and phrases of old Clementi trickled from the keys,
she had hot fits of raging wounded pride, and cold shudders of deadly
depression. The numb listlessness which had shielded her at the
beginning of the afternoon had disappeared during her short conversation
with Diamond. She was sensitive now to a thousand stinging thoughts.

What a fool she had been! What a poor, blind fool! She tried to remember
all the details of the past days. Did others see what Miss Chubb had
seen in Diamond's face? And had she--Minnie Bodkin, who prided herself
on her keen observation, her cleverness, and her power of reading
motives--had she been the only one to miss this obvious fact? She had
been deluding herself with the thought that Matthew Diamond came and
sat beside her couch, and talked, and smiled for her sake! Poor fool!
Why, did not his frequent visits date from the time when Rhoda's visits
had begun, too? It was all clear enough now; so clear, that the
self-delusion which had blinded her seemed to have been little short of
madness. "As if it were possible that a man should waste his love on
me!" she thought bitterly.

At that moment she caught Mr. Warlock's eyes mournfully fixed upon her.
His gaze irritated her unendurably. "Am I so pitiable a spectacle?" she
asked herself. "Is my folly written on my face, that that idiot stares
at me in wonder and compassion?"

Minnie gave him one of her haughtiest and coldest glances, and then
turned away her head.

Poor Mr. Warlock! It must be owned that there are strange, cruel pangs
unjustly inflicted and suffered in this world by the most civilised
persons.

The little party broke up sooner than usual. The dispirited tone with
which it had begun continued to the end. Algernon made his farewells to
Miss Chubb, Mr. Warlock, Mr. Diamond, and Dr. Bodkin. But to Minnie he
whispered, "I will run in once more on Monday to say 'Good-bye' to your
mother and to you, if I may."

The rest departed almost simultaneously. Matthew Diamond lingered an
instant at the door of the drawing-room, to say to Mrs. Bodkin, "I hope
this is not to be the last of our pleasant Saturdays, although we are
losing Errington?"

It was an unusual sort of speech from the reserved, shy tutor, who
carried his proud dread of being thought officious or intrusive to such
a point, that Minnie was wont to say, laughingly, that Mr. Diamond's
diffidence was haughtier than anyone else's disdain.

Mrs. Bodkin smiled, well pleased. "Oh, I hope not, indeed!" she said in
her quick, low accents. "Minnie! Do you hear what Mr. Diamond is
saying?"

Minnie did not answer. She thought how happy this wish of his to keep up
"our pleasant Saturdays" would have made her yesterday!



CHAPTER XIII.


The manifestations of maternal vanity are apt to appear monotonous to
the indifferent spectator; but, in Mrs. Errington such manifestations
were, at least, not open to that reproach. Beethoven himself never
surpassed her in the power of producing variations on one simple theme.
And this surprising fertility of hers prevented her from being a mere
commonplace bore. She never told a story twice alike. There was always
an element of unexpectedness in her conversation, albeit the groundwork
and foundation of it varied but little. In the overflowing gratification
of her heart at Algernon's prospects, and under the excitement of his
imminent departure, she would fain have bestowed some of her eloquence
even on old Max, with whom her relations had been decidedly cool, since
the outbreak of rude temper on his part which has been recorded. But old
Max continued to be surly and taciturn for a while; he had been
bitterly mortified by Mrs. Errington's talk about the marriage her son
would be able to make, whenever it should please him to select a wife.

But then, after that, had come Miss Bodkin's frequent invitations to
Rhoda, which had greatly mollified the old man. And presently it
appeared as if Mrs. Errington had forgotten all about General Indigo's
daughters, and the heiress of the eminent drysalter. At all events, she
said no more on the subject of those ladies. And old Max gradually, and
not slowly, recurred to his former persuasion that the Erringtons would
be very glad to secure Rhoda's hand for Algernon, being well aware that
her money would balance her birth and connections. True, the young man
had, as yet, said nothing explicit. But, of course, he would feel it
necessary to have some settled prospect before asking permission to
engage himself formally to Rhoda.

"He is connected with the great ones of the earth, to be sure!"
reflected Mr. Maxfield, with some exultation. "And he is a comely young
chap to look upon, and full of all kinds of book-learning and
accomplishments--talks foreign tongues, and sings, and plays upon
instruments, and draws pictures!"

An uneasy thought crossed his mind at this point, that David Powell
would consider these things as leading to reprehensible frivolity and
worldliness; and that, moreover, most of his (Maxfield's) old friends
would agree with the preacher in so deeming. It was not to be expected
that the thoughts and habits of a lifetime could be so eradicated from
old Max's mind by the mere fact of going to worship at St. Chad's, as to
leave his conscience absolutely free on these and similar points. But
the ultimate effect of such inward feelings was always to embitter the
old man against Powell, and to make him clutch eagerly at any
circumstance which should tend to prove that Powell had been wrong and
himself right in their differing views of the Erringtons' intentions. He
was inexpressibly loath to consider himself mistaken. Indeed, for him to
be mistaken seemed to argue a general dislocation and turning
topsy-turvy of things, and a terrible unchaining of the powers of
darkness. If, after walking all his life in the paths of wisdom and
prosperity, he were to find himself suddenly astray, and blundering on a
point which nearly concerned the only tender feelings of his nature,
such a phenomenon must clearly be due to the direct interposition of
Satan. However, as he stood one evening in his storehouse, tying up a
great parcel of sugar in blue paper, Jonathan Maxfield was feeling
neither discontented nor self-distrustful. Mrs. Errington had just been
speaking to Rhoda in his presence, and had said:

"Well, little one, you have quite made a conquest of Mrs. Bodkin, as
well as Miss Minnie. She was praising you up to me the other day. She
particularly remarked your nice manners, and attributed them to my
influence----"

"I'm sure, ma'am, if there is anything nice in my manners, it was you
who taught it to me," Rhoda had said simply. Upon which Mrs. Errington
had been very gracious, and, without at all disclaiming the credit of
Rhoda's nice manners, had mellifluously assured Mr. Maxfield that his
little girl was wonderfully teachable, and had become a general
favourite amongst her (Mrs. Errington's) friends.

Now all this had seemed to Maxfield to be of good augury, and an
additional testimony--if any such were needed--to his own sagacity and
prudent behaviour.

"It'll come right, as I foresaw," thought he triumphantly. "Another man
might have been over hasty, and spoiled matters like a fool. But not
me!"

Some one pushed the half-door between the shop and the storehouse, and
set the bell jingling. Maxfield looked up and saw Algernon Errington,
bright, smiling, and debonair, as usual.

The ordinary expression of old Max's face was not winning; and now, as
he looked up with his grey eyebrows drawn into a shaggy frown, and his
jaws clenched so as to hold the end of a string which he had just drawn
into a knot round the parcel of sugar, he presented a countenance
ill-calculated to reassure a stranger or invite his confidence. But Algy
was not a stranger, and did not intend to bestow any confidence, so he
came forward with the graceful self-possession which sat so well on him,
and said, "How are you, Mr. Maxfield? I have not seen you for ever so
long!"

"It doesn't seem very long ago to me, since we spoke together," returned
old Max, tugging at the string of his parcel.

"You know I'm off to-morrow, Mr. Maxfield?"

The old man shot a hard keen glance at him from beneath the shaggy
eyebrows, and nodded.

"I go by the early coach in the morning, so I must say all my farewells
to-day."

Maxfield gave a sound like a grunt, and nodded again.

"It's a wonderful piece of luck, Lord Seely's taking me up so, isn't
it?"

"Ah! if he means to do anything for you in earnest. So far as I can
learn, his taking you up hasn't cost him much yet."

Algernon laughed frankly. "Not a bit of it, Mr. Maxfield!" he cried.
"And, after all, why should he do anything that would cost him much, for
a poor devil like me? No; the beauty of it is, that he can do great
things for me which shall cost him nothing! He is hand and glove with
the present ministry, and a regular big-wig at court, and all that sort
of thing. The fact of my having good blood in my veins, and being called
Ancram Errington, is no merit of mine, of course--just an accident; but
it's a deuced lucky accident. I daresay Lord Seely is a stupid old
hunks, but then he is Lord Seely, you see. I don't mind saying all this
to you, Mr. Maxfield, because you know the world, and you and I are old
friends."

It was certainly rather hard on Lord Seely to be spoken of as a stupid
old hunks by this lively young gentleman, who knew little more of him
than of his great-grandfather, deceased a century ago. But his lordship
did not hear the artless little speech, so it did not annoy him; whereas
old Max did hear it, and it gratified him considerably for several
reasons. It gratified him to be addressed confidentially as one who knew
the world; it gratified him to be called an old friend by this relation
of the great Lord Seely. And, oddly enough, whilst he was mentally
bowing down before the aristocratic magnificence of that nobleman, it
gratified him to be told that the bowing down was being performed to a
"stupid old hunks," altogether devoid of that wisdom which had been so
largely bestowed on himself, the Whitford grocer.

Pleasant and unaffected as was the young fellow's manner to his
landlord, there was a nonchalance about it which conveyed that he was
quite aware of the social distance between them. And this assumption of
superiority--never coarse or ponderous, like his mother's, but worn with
the airiest lightness--was far from displeasing to old Max. The more of
a gentleman born and bred Algernon Errington showed himself to be, the
higher would Rhoda's position be, if--but old Max had almost discarded
that form of presenting the future to his own mind; and was apt to say
to himself, "when Rhoda marries young Errington." And then the solid
advantages of the position were, so far at least, on old Max's side.
Wealth and wisdom made a powerful combination, he reflected. And he was
not at all afraid of being borne down or overwhelmed by any amount of
gentility. Nevertheless, his spirit was in some subjection to this
patrician youth, who sat opposite to him on a tea-chest, swinging his
legs so affably.

There was a pause. At length Maxfield said, "And how long do you think
o' being away? Or are you going to say good-bye to Whitford for
evermore?"

"Indeed I hope not!"

"Oh! Then there is some folks here as you would care to see again?" said
Maxfield slowly, beginning to tie up another parcel with sedulous care,
and not raising his eyes from it.

"Of course there are! I--I should think you must know that, Mr.
Maxfield! But I want to put myself in a better position with the world
before I can--before I come back to the people I most care for."

"Very good. But it's like to be some time first, I'm afraid."

"As to seeing dear old Whitford again, you know I mean to run down here
in the summer; or at least early in the autumn, when Parliament rises."

"Oh, you do?"

"To be sure! And then I hope to--to settle several things."

"Ah!"

"To a man of your experience, Mr. Maxfield, I needn't say how important
it is for me to go to Lord Seely, ready and willing to undertake any
employment he may offer me."

"Ah!"

"I mean, of course, that I should be absolutely free and unfettered, and
ready to--to--to avail myself of opportunities. You see that, of
course?"

Maxfield looked sage, and nodded. But he also looked a little glum. The
conversation had not taken the turn he expected.

"Once let me get something definite--a Government post, you know, such
as my cousin could get for me as easily as you could take an
apprentice--and then I may please myself. I may consider myself on the
first round of the ladder. And there won't be the same necessity for
deferring to this person and that person. But I don't know why I'm
saying all this to you, Mr. Maxfield. You understand the whole matter
better than I do. By Jove, I wish I'd some of your ballast in my noddle.
I'm such a feather-headed fellow!"

"You are young, Algernon, you are young," returned old Max, from whose
brow the frown had cleared away entirely. "I have had a special gift of
wisdom vouchsafed to me for many years past. It has been, I believe, a
peculiar grace, and it is the Lord's doing, thanks be! I am not easy
deceived."

"I shouldn't like to try it on, that's all I know!" exclaimed Algernon,
pleasantly smiling and nodding his head.

"Albeit there is some as mistrust my judgment; young and raw men without
much gift of clear-headedness, and puffed up with spiritual pride."

"Are there, really?" said Algernon, feeling somewhat at a loss what to
say.

"Yes, there are. I should like such to be convinced of error. It would
be a wholesome lesson."

"Not a doubt of it."

"I should like such to know--for their own soul's sake, and to teach 'em
Christian humility--as you and I quite understand each other, my young
friend; and as all is clear between us."

Algernon had a constitutional dislike to "clear understandings," except
such as were limited to his clear understanding of other people. So he
broke in at this point with one of his impulsive speeches about his
prospects, and his conviction of Mr. Maxfield's wisdom, and his regrets
at leaving Whitford, and his settled purpose to come back at the
end of the summer and have a look at the dear old place, and the
one or two persons in it who were still dearer to him. And he
contrived--"contrived," indeed, is too cold-blooded and Machiavelian a
word to express Algy's rapid mental process--to convey to old Max the
idea that he was on the high road to fortune; that he had a warm and
constant attachment to a certain person whom it was needless to name,
seeing that the certain person could be no other than his playmate,
pretty Rhoda; and that Mr. Jonathan Maxfield was so sagacious and
keen-sighted a personage as to require no wordy explanations such as
might have been needful for feebler intelligences. And then Algy said,
with a rueful sort of candour, and arching those fair childlike eyebrows
of his: "I say, Mr. Maxfield, I shall be awfully short of cash just at
first!"

The two hands of Jonathan Maxfield, which had been laid open, and palm
downwards, on the counter before him, as he listened, instinctively
doubled themselves into fists. He put them one on the top of the other,
and rested his chin on them.

"I don't bother my mother about it, poor dear soul, because I know she
has done all she can already. Of course, if I were to hint anything to
my cousin--to Lord Seely, you know--I might get helped directly. But I
don't want to begin with that, exactly."

"H'm! It 'ud be a test of how much he really does mean, though!"

"Yes; but you know what you said about Lord Seely's doing great things
for me which shall cost him nothing. And I felt how true your view was,
directly. By George, if I want any advice between now and next August, I
shall be tempted to write and ask you for it!"

Maxfield gave a little rasping cough.

"Of course I know the manners and customs of high-bred people well
enough. A fellow who comes of an old family like mine seems to suck all
that in with his mother's milk, somehow. But that's a mere surface
knowledge, after all. And some circumstance might turn up in which I
should want a more solid judgment to help my own."

Maxfield coughed again, a little less raspingly. One of his doubled-up
hands unclasped itself, and he began to pass it across his stubbly chin.

"By-the-by--what an ass I was not to think of that before--would you
mind lending me twenty pounds till August, Mr. Maxfield?"

"I--I'm not given to lending, Algernon; nor to borrowing either, I thank
the Lord."

"Borrowing! No; you're one of the lucky folks of this world, who can
grant favours instead of asking them. But it really is of small
consequence, after all; I'll manage somehow, if you have any objection.
I believe I have a nabob of a godfather, General Indigo, as yellow as a
guinea and as rich as a Jew. My mother was talking of him the other day,
and, perhaps, it would be better to ask such a little favour of one's
own people. I'll look up the nabob, Mr. Maxfield."

It must not be supposed that Algy, in bringing out the name of General
Indigo, had any thought of the three lovely Miss Indigos in his mind. He
was quite unconscious of the existence of those young ladies; if,
indeed, they were not entirely the figments of Mrs. Errington's fertile
fancy. Algy had laid no deep plans. He was simply quick at seizing
opportunity. The opportunity had presented itself, of dazzling old Max
with his nabob godfather, and of--perhaps--inducing the stingy old
fellow to lend him what he wanted, by dint of conveying that he did not
want it particularly. Algy had availed himself of the opportunity, and
the shot had told very effectually.

Old Max never swore. Had he been one of the common and profane crowd of
worldlings, it may be that some imprecation on General Indigo would have
issued from his lips; for the mention of that name made him very angry.
But old Max had a settled conviction of the probable consignment to
perdition of the rich nabob--who was doubtless a purse-proud, tyrannous,
godless old fellow--which far surpassed, in its comforting power, the
ephemeral satisfaction of an oath. He struck his clenched hand on the
counter, and said, testily, "You have not heard what I had it in my mind
to say! You are too rash, young man, and broke in on my discourse before
it was finished!"

"I beg pardon. Did I?"

"I say that I am not given to lending nor to borrowing; and it is most
true. But I have not said that I will refuse to assist you. This is a
special case, and must be judged of specially as between you and me."

"Why, of course, I would rather be obliged to you than to the general,
who is a stranger to me, in fact, though he is my godfather."

"There's nearer ties than godfathers, Algernon."

Algernon burst into a peal of genuine laughter. "Why, yes," said he,
wiping his eyes, "I hope so!"

Old Max did not move a muscle of his face. "What was the sum you named?"
he asked, solemnly.

"Oh, I don't know--twenty or thirty pounds would do. Something just to
keep me going until my mother's next quarter's money comes in."

"I will lend you twenty pounds, Algernon, for which you will write me an
acknowledgment."

"Certainly!"

"Being under age, your receipt is valueless in law. But I wish to have
it as between you and me."

"Of course; as between you and me."

Maxfield unlocked a strong-box let into the wall. Algernon--who had
often gazed at the outside of it rather wistfully--peeped into it with
some eagerness when it was opened; but its contents were chiefly papers
and a huge ledger. There was, however, in one corner a well-stuffed
black leather pocket-book, from which old Max slowly extracted a crisp,
fresh Bank of England note for twenty pounds.

"I'm sure I'm ever so much obliged to you, Mr. Maxfield," said Algernon,
taking the note. He spoke without any over-eagerness, but the gleam of
boyish delight in his eyes would not be suppressed.

"And now come into the parlour with me, and write the acknowledgment."

"I say, Mr. Maxfield," said Algernon, when the receipt had been duly
written and signed, "you won't say anything to my mother about this?"

"Do you mean to keep it a secret?" asked the old man, sharply.

"Oh, of course I don't mind all the world knowing, as far as I'm
concerned. But the dear old lady might worry herself at not being able
to do more for me. Let it be just simply as between you and me," said
Algernon, repeating Maxfield's words, but, truth to say, without
attaching any very definite meaning to them. The old man pursed up his
mouth and nodded.

"Aye, aye," he said, "as between you and me, Algernon; as between you
and me."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Upon my word, that formula of old Max's seems to be a kind of open
sesame to purses and strong-boxes and cheque-books! 'As between you and
me.' I wonder if it would answer with Lord Seely? Who'd have thought of
old Max doing the handsome thing? Well, it's all right enough. I do mean
to stick to little Rhoda, especially since her father seems to hint his
approbation so very plainly. But it wouldn't do to bind myself just
now--for her sake, poor little pet! 'As between you and me!' What a
character the old fellow is! I wish he'd made it fifty while he was
about it!"

Such was Algernon's mental soliloquy as he walked jauntily down the
street, with his hand in his pocket, and the crisp bank-note between his
finger and thumb.



CHAPTER XIV.


David Powell sat in his garret chamber. The fast waning light of a
February afternoon fell on him as he sat close to the lattice in the
sloping roof. He had placed himself there to be able to read the small
print of his pocket-bible. But the light was already too dim for that.
It was dusk in the garret. The strip of grey cloud, visible from the
window, was beginning to turn red at its lower edge as the sun sank. It
was the angry flaring red, which is often seen at the close of a cold
and cloudy day, and had no suggestion of genial warmth in its deep
flush. Such a snow-laden, crimson-bordered wrack of fleecy cloud, as
Powell's eyes rested on, might have hung over a Lapland waste. There was
no fire in the room, nor any means of making one. It was bitterly cold.
The preacher's face looked white and bloodless, as if it were frozen.
But he sat still, staring out at the red sunset light on the strip of
sky within his view. From his seat on an old chest, which he had drawn
close under the window, he could see nothing but the sky. Not one of the
roofs or chimneys of Whitford was visible to him. A black wavering line
moved slowly across his field of vision. It was a flight of rooks on
their way home to the tall leafless elm-trees in Pudcombe Park. Nothing
else moved, except the red flare creeping upward by slow and
imperceptible degrees.

Suddenly the little Bible fell from Powell's numbed right hand on to the
carpetless floor, and, with a start, he turned his head and looked
around him. By contrast with the wintry light without, the garret
appeared quite dark to him, and it was not until after a few seconds
that his eye became sufficiently accustomed to its gloom, to perceive
the book lying almost at his feet. He picked it up, and began to chafe
his numbed fingers, rising at the same time, and walking up and down the
room.

His thoughts had been straying idly as he sat at the window, with his
eyes fixed on the sky. They had gone back to the days of his boyhood,
and in memory he had seen the wild Welsh valley where he was born, and
heard the bleat of sheep from the hills, as he had listened to it many a
summer morning, sitting ragged and barefoot on the turf. And with these
recollections the image of Rhoda Maxfield was strangely mingled,
appearing and disappearing, like a face in a dream. Indeed, he had been
dreaming open-eyed in his solitude, unconscious of the cold and the
gathering dusk.

Now, such aimless, vagrant wanderings of the fancy were considered
reprehensible by earnest Methodists; and by none were they more strongly
disapproved of than by David Powell himself. His life was guided, as
nearly as might be, in conformity with the rules laid down by John
Wesley himself for the helpers, as his first lay-preachers were called.
And among these rules, diligence--unflagging, unfaltering--diligence and
the strenuous employment of every minute, so that no fragment of time
should be wasted, were emphatically insisted upon. Powell had ceased to
read when the daylight waned, and remained in his place by the window,
intending to devote a few minutes of the twilight to the rigid
self-examination which was his daily habit. And instead, behold! his
mind had strayed and wandered in idle recollections and unsanctified
imaginings.

Presently he began to mutter to himself, as he paced up and down the
chill bare room.

"What have I to do with these things," he said aloud, "when I should be
about my Master's business? Where is the comfortable assurance of old
days--the bright light which used to shine within my soul, turning its
darkness to noon-day? I have lost my first love;[1] I have fallen from
grace; and the enemy finds a ready entrance for any idle thoughts he
wills to put into my mind. And yet--have I not striven? Have I not
searched my own heart with sincerity?"

[Footnote 1: A common expression among the early Methodists, to indicate
the first fervour of religious zeal.]

All at once, stopping short in his walk across the garret floor, he
threw himself on his knees beside the bed, and, burying his face in his
hands, began to pray aloud. The sound of his own voice rising ever
higher, as his supplications grew more fervent, hid from his ears the
noise of a tap at the door, which was repeated twice or thrice. At
length, the person who had knocked pushed the door gently open a little
way, and called him by his name, "Mr. Powell! Mr. Powell!"

"Who calls me?" asked the preacher, lifting his head, but not rising at
once from his knees.

"It's me, sir; Mrs. Thimbleby. I have made you a cup of herb tea
accordin' to the directions in the Primitive Physic,[2] and there is a
handful of fire in the kitchen grate, whilst here it is downright
freezing. Dear, dear Mr. Powell, I can't think it right for you to set
for hours up here by yourself in the cold!"

[Footnote 2: A collection of receipts, published by John Wesley, under
the title of "Primitive Physic; or, An Easy and Natural Method of Curing
most Diseases."]

The good widow--a gentle, loquacious woman, with mild eyes and a humble
manner--had advanced into the room by this time, and stood holding up a
lighted candle in one hand, whilst with the other she drew her scanty
black shawl closer round her shoulders.

"I will come, Mrs. Thimbleby," answered Powell. "Do you go downstairs,
and I will follow you forthwith."

"Well, it is a miracle of the Lord if he don't catch his death of cold,"
muttered the widow as she redescended the steep, narrow staircase. "But
there! he is a select vessel, if ever there was one; and a burning and a
shining light. And I suppose the Lord will take care of His own, in His
own way."

Mrs. Thimbleby sat down by her own clean-swept hearth, in which a small
fire was burning brightly. The little kitchen was wonderfully clean. Not
a speck of rust marked the bright pewter and tin vessels that hung over
the dresser. Not an atom of dust lay on any visible object in the place.
There was no sound to be heard save the ticking of the old eight-day
clock, and, now and then, the dropping of a coal on to the hearth. As
soon as she heard her lodger's step on the stairs, Mrs. Thimbleby
bestirred herself to pour out the herb tea of which she had spoken.

"I wish it was China tea, Mr. Powell," she said, when he entered the
kitchen. "But you won't take that, so I know it's no good to offer it to
you. Else I have a cup here as is really good, and came out of my new
lodger's pot."

"You do not surely take of what is not your own!" cried Powell, looking
quickly round at her.

"Lord forbid, sir! No, but the gentleman drinks a sight of tea. And last
evening he would have some fresh made, and I say to him"--Mrs.
Thimbleby's narrative style was chiefly remarkable for its
simplification of the English syntax, by means of omitting all past
tenses, and thus getting rid of any difficulty attendant on the
conjugation of irregular verbs--"I say, 'Won't you have none of that
last as was made for breakfast, as is beautiful tea, and only wants
warming up again?' But he refuse; and then I ask him if I may use it
myself, seeing I look on it as a sin to waste anything; and he only just
look up from his book and nod his head, and say, 'Do what you like with
it, ma'am,' and wave his hand as much as to say I may go. He is not much
of a one to talk, but he paid the first week punctual, and is as quiet
as quiet, and--there he is! I hear his key in the door."

A quick, firm step came along the passage, and Matthew Diamond appeared
at the door of the kitchen. "Will you be good enough to give me a
light?" he said, addressing the landlady. Then he saw David Powell
standing near the fire, and looked at him curiously. Powell did not
turn, nor seem to observe the new comer. His head was bent down, and the
firelight partially illumined his profile, which was presented to anyone
standing at the door. Mr. Diamond silently formed the word "Preacher?"
with his lips, at the same time nodding towards Powell, and raising his
eyebrows interrogatively. Mrs. Thimbleby answered aloud with alacrity,
well pleased to begin a conversation with her taciturn lodger.

"Yes, sir; it is our preacher, Mr. Powell, as is one of our shiningest
lights, and an awakening caller of sinners to repentance. You've maybe
heard him preach, sir? A many of the unconverted--ahem!--a many as does
not belong to the connexion has come to hear him in Whitford Wesleyan
Chapel, and on Whit Meadow. And we have had seasons of abundant blessing
and refreshment."

Powell had turned round at the beginning of Mrs. Thimbleby's speech, and
was looking earnestly at Mr. Diamond. The latter, who had seen the
preacher only in the full tide of his eloquence and the excitement of
addressing a crowded audience, was struck by the change in the face now
before him. It was much thinner, haggard, and deadly pale. There were
lines round the mouth, which expressed anxiety and suffering; and the
eyes were sunk in their orbits, and startlingly bright. Diamond was, in
fact, startled out of his usual silent reserve by the glance which met
his own, and exclaimed, impulsively, "I'm afraid you are ill, Mr.
Powell!"

"No," returned the other at once, and without hesitation. "I have no
bodily ailment. I have seen you at the house of Jonathan Maxfield, have
I not?"

"Yes; I have been in the habit of going there to read with a young
gentleman. My name is Diamond--Matthew Diamond."

"I know it," answered Powell. "I should like, if you are willing, to say
a few words to you privately."

Diamond was a good deal surprised, and a little displeased, at this
proposition. He had been interested in the Methodist preacher, and the
thought had more than once crossed his mind that he should like to see
more of the man, whose whole personality was so striking and uncommon.
But Mr. Diamond had felt his wish just as he might have wished to have
Paganini with his violin all to himself for an evening; or to learn
_vivâ voce_ from Edmund Kean how he produced his great effects. To be
the object and subject of a private sermon from this Methodist
enthusiast (for Diamond could conceive no other reason for the
preacher's desiring an interview with him than zeal for converting) was,
however, a different matter; and Diamond had half a mind to decline the
private communication. He was a man peculiarly averse to outspokenness
about his own feelings. Nor was he given to be frank and diffusive on
topics of mere intellectual speculation; although, occasionally, he
could exchange thoughts on such matters with a congenial mind. But he
knew well enough that, with the Methodists in general, an excited state
of feeling, which might do duty for conviction, was the aim and end of
their teaching and preaching.

"This man is ignorant and enthusiastic, and will make himself absurd and
me uncomfortable, and I shall have to offend him, which I don't wish to
do," thought Mr. Diamond, standing stiff and grave with the candle in
his hand. But once more the sight of Powell's haggard, suffering face
and bright wistful eyes touched him; and once more the resolute Matthew
Diamond suffered himself to be swayed by an impulse of sympathy with
this man.

"Oh," said he, "well, you can come into my sitting-room."

The invitation was not very graciously given, but Powell did not seem to
heed that at all. Mrs. Thimbleby stood in admiring astonishment as her
two lodgers left the kitchen together.

The two young men, so strangely contrasted in all outward circumstances,
entered the small parlour, which served as dining-room, sitting-room,
and study to Matthew Diamond, and seated themselves at a table almost
covered with books, one corner of which had been cleared to admit of a
little tea-tray being placed upon it.

"Will you share my tea, Mr. Powell?" asked Diamond, as he filled a cup
with the strong brown liquid.

"No; I thank you for proffering it to me, but I do not drink tea."

"I am sorry for that, for I am afraid I have no other refreshment to
offer you. I don't indulge in wine or spirits."

Diamond threw into his manner a certain determined commonplaceness, as
though to quench any tendency to excitement or exaltation which might
show itself in the preacher. Although he would have expressed it in
different terms, Matthew Diamond had at the bottom of his mind a feeling
akin to that in Miss Chubb's, when she declared her dread of the
Maxfield family "going into convulsions" in the parish church of St.
Chad.

"I will take a cup of tea myself, if you have no objection," said
Diamond, suiting the action to the word, and stretching out his legs, so
as to bring them within reach of the warmth from the fire. "Won't you
draw nearer to the hearth, Mr. Powell?"

Powell sat looking fixedly into the fire with an abstracted air. His
hands were joined loosely, and rested on his knees. The firelight shone
on his wan, clearly-cut face, but seemed to be absorbed and quenched in
the blackness of his hair, which hung down in two straight, thick locks
behind his ears. He did not accept Mr. Diamond's invitation to draw
nearer to the warm hearth, but, after a pause, turned his face to his
companion, and said, "It is on behalf of the young maiden, Rhoda
Maxfield, that I would speak with you, sir."

He could scarcely have said anything more thoroughly unexpected and
disconcerting to Matthew Diamond. The latter did not start or stare, or
make any strong demonstration of surprise, but he could not help a
sudden flush mounting to his face, much to his annoyance.

"About Miss Rhoda Maxfield?" he returned coldly; "I do not understand
what concern either you or I can have with any private conversation
about that young lady."

"My concern with Rhoda is that of one who has had it laid upon him to
lead a tender soul out of the darkness into the light, and who suddenly
finds himself divided from that precious charge, even at the moment
when he hoped the goal was reached. Her father has left our Society, and
has thus carried Rhoda away from the reach of my exhortations."

"By Jove!" thought Diamond to himself, as he turned his keen grey eyes
on the preacher, "this is a specimen of spiritual conceit on a colossal
scale!" Then he said aloud, "You must console yourself with the hope
that the exhortations she will hear in the parish church will differ
from your own rather in manner than matter, Mr. Powell. There really are
some very decent people among the congregation of St. Chad's."

"Nay," answered Powell, with simple gentleness, "do you think I doubt
it? It has been the boast of Methodism that it receives into its bosom
all denominations of Christians, without distinction. The Churchman and
the Dissenter, the Presbyterian and the Independent, are alike welcome
to us, and are free alike to follow their own method of worship. In the
words of John Wesley himself, 'one condition, and one only, is
required--a real desire to save their souls. Where this is, it is
enough; they desire no more. They lay stress upon nothing else. They ask
only, Is thy heart herein as my heart? If it be, give me thy hand.'"

"Methodism has changed somewhat since the days of John Wesley," said
Diamond, drily.

"Not Methodism, but perhaps--Methodists. But it was not of Methodism
that I had it on my mind to speak to you now."

Diamond controlled his face and his attitude to express civil
indifference; but--his pulse was quickened, and he hid his mouth with
his hand. Powell went on: "I have turned the matter in my mind, many
ways. And I have sought for guidance on it with much wrestling of the
spirit. But I had not received a clear leading until this evening. When
I saw you standing in the doorway, it was borne in upon me that you
could be an instrument of help in this matter. And the leading was the
more assured to me, because that to-day, having opened my Bible after
due supplication, mine eyes fell at once on the words, 'I have heard of
thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eyes seeth thee.' Now these
words were dark to me until just now, when you seemed to appear as the
explanation and interpretation thereof."

Diamond could not but acknowledge to himself that all the scriptural
phraseology, and the technicalities of sectarianism, which he found
merely grotesque or disgusting in men of common, vulgar natures, came
from this man's lips with as much ease and propriety as if he had been a
Hebrew of old time uttering his native idiom. Indeed, the impression of
there being something oriental about David Powell, which Diamond had
received on first seeing him, was deepened on further acquaintance. This
black-haired Welshman was picturesque and poetic, despite his threadbare
cloth suit, made in the ungraceful mode of the day; and impressive,
despite his equally threadbare phrases. It is possible to make a
wonderful difference in the effect both of clothes and words, by putting
something earnest and unaffected inside them.

"What is the help you seek? And how can I help you?" asked Diamond, with
grave directness.

"You are acquainted with the daughter of the principal of the grammar
school here----"

"Miss Bodkin?"

"Yes. Do you think that, if you carried to her a request that I might be
permitted to see and speak with her, she would admit me?"

"I--I don't know," answered Diamond, greatly taken aback.

There was a pause. Each man was busy with his own thoughts. "Rhoda is
beyond my reach now," said Powell at length. "I can neither see nor
speak with her. Nor do I know of any of those who see her familiarly who
would be likely to influence her for good, except Miss Bodkin. I am told
that she is a lady of much ability and power of mind; and I hear,
moreover, of her doing many acts of charity and kindness. You know her
well, do you not?"

"I know her. Yes."

"Would you consent to carry such a request from me?"

Diamond hesitated. "Why not prefer the request yourself?" he said. "If
you have any good reason for desiring an interview with Miss Bodkin, I
believe she would grant it."

"I had thought of doing so. I had thought, even, of writing all that I
have to say. But, for many reasons, I believe it would be more
profitable for me to see her face to face. I am no penman. I am indeed,
as you perceive, a man very ignorant in the world's learning and the
world's ways."

Diamond suspected a covert boast under this humble speech, and answered
in his coolest tones, "The first is a disadvantage--or an advantage, as
you choose to consider it--which you share with a good many of your
brethren, Mr. Powell. As to the latter kind of ignorance--Methodists are
generally thought to have worldly wisdom enough for their needs."

Powell bent his head. "I would fain have more learning," he said in a
low voice, "but only as a means, not as an end--not as an end."

"But," said Diamond, in a constrained voice, "it seems to me hardly
worth while to trouble Miss Bodkin, by asking for an interview on any
such grounds. Since you are charitable enough to believe that Miss
Maxfield's spiritual welfare is not imperilled by going to St. Chad's, I
don't see what need there is for you to be uneasy about her!"

"I am uneasy; but not for the reasons you suppose. Rhoda is very
guileless, and I would shield her from peril."

Diamond looked at the preacher sternly. "I don't understand you," he
said. "And to say the truth, Mr. Powell, I disapprove of meddling in
other people's affairs. Miss Maxfield is a young lady for whom I have
the very highest respect."

For the first time a flame of quick anger flashed from Powell's dark
eyes, as he answered, "Your high respect would teach you to stand aside
and let the innocent maiden pine under a delusion which might spoil her
life and peril her soul; mine prompts me to step forward and awaken her
to the truth, never heeding what figure I make in the matter."

The sudden passion in the man's face and figure was like a material
illumination. Diamond had grown pale, and looked at him attentively, and
in silence.

"Do you think," proceeded Powell, his thin hands working nervously, and
his eyes blazing, "that I do not understand how pure a creature she
is--how innocent, confiding, and devoid of all suspicion of guile? Yea,
and even, therefore, the more in need of warning! But because I am a man
still young in years, and neither the maiden's brother, nor any kin to
her, I must stand silent and withhold my help, lest the world should say
I am transgressing its rules, and bid me mind my own affairs, or deride
me for a fanatical fool! Do you think I do not foresee all this? or do
you think that, foreseeing it, I heed it? I have broken harder bonds
than that; I have fought with strong impulses, to which such motives are
as cobwebs----" Then, with a sudden check and change of tone which a
grain of affectation would have sufficed to render ludicrous, but which,
in its simplicity, was almost touching, he added, in a low voice, "I ask
pardon for my vehemence; I speak too much of myself. I have had some
suffering in this matter, and am not always able to control my words. I
have had strange visitings of the old Adam of late. It is only by much
striving after grace, and by strong wrestling in prayer, that I have not
wandered utterly from the right way."

He had risen from his chair at the beginning of his speech, and now sank
down again on it wearily, with drooping head.

Matthew Diamond sat and looked at him still with the same earnest
attention; but blended, now, with a look of compassion. He was thinking
to himself what must be the force of enthusiastic faith, which could so
subdue the fiery nature of this man, and how he must suffer in the
conflict. Presently, he said aloud, "I am ready to admit, Mr. Powell,
that you are actuated by conscientious motives; I am sure that you are.
But your conscience cannot be a rule for all the rest of the world. Mine
may counsel me differently, you know."

"Oh, sir, we are neither of us left to our own guidance, thanks be to
God! There is a sure counsellor that can never fail us. I have searched
diligently, and I have received a clear leading which I cannot mistrust.
I do not feel free to tell you more particularly the grounds of my
anxiety respecting Rhoda Maxfield. But I do assure you, with all
sincerity and solemnity, that I have her welfare wholly at heart, and
that I would not injure her by the least shadow of blame in the opinion
of any human being."

There was silence for some minutes. Diamond leant his head on his hand,
and reflected. Then at length he said, "Look here, Mr. Powell; I
believe, if you had pitched on anyone else in all Whitford to speak to
about Miss Rhoda Maxfield, I should have declined to assist you. But
Miss Bodkin is so superior in sense and goodness to most other folks
here, that I am sure whatever you may say to her confidentially will be
sacred. And then, she may be able to set you right, if you are wrong.
She has the woman's tact and insight which we lack. And, besides, she
is fond of Rhoda." He coloured a little as he said the name, and dropped
his voice.

"You confirm all that I have heard of this lady. She is abundantly
blessed with good gifts."

"Well, then, Mr. Powell, I will write to Miss Bodkin to-morrow, telling
her merely that you desire to speak with her, and entreat her good
offices on behalf of one who needs them."

Powell sprang up from his seat eagerly. "I thank you, sir, from a full
heart," he said. "You are doing a good action. Farewell."

Diamond held out his hand, which the preacher grasped in his own. The
two hands were as strongly contrasted as the owners of them. Diamond's
was broad, muscular, and yet smooth--a strong young hand, full of latent
power. Powell's was slender, nervous, showing the corded veins, and with
long emaciated fingers. It, too, indicated force; but force of a
different kind. The one hand might have driven a plough, or written out
a mathematical problem; the other might have wielded a scimitar in the
service of the Prophet, or held up a crucifix in the midst of
persecuting savages. As they stood for a second thus hand in hand,
Powell's mouth broke into a wonderfully sweet and radiant smile, and he
said, "You see, sir, I was right to have faith in my counsellor. You
have helped me."

Diamond sat musing late that night, and was roused by the cold to find
his fire gone out and his watch marking half-past twelve o'clock. "I
wonder," he thought to himself, "if Powell has any foundation for his
hints, and if any scoundrel is playing false with her. If there be, I
should like to shoot him like a dog!"



CHAPTER XV.


Minnie and her father had been having a discussion about David Powell,
and the discussion had heated Dr. Bodkin, and spoiled his half hour
after dinner, which was wont to be the pleasantest half hour of his day.
For Dr. Bodkin did not sit over his wine alone. When there were no
guests, his wife and Minnie remained at the black shining board--in
those days the table-cloth was removed for the dessert, and the polish
of the mahogany beneath it was a matter of pride with notable
housekeepers like Mrs. Bodkin--and his wife poured out his allowance of
port and peeled his walnuts for him, and his daughter chatted with him,
and coaxed him, and sometimes contradicted him a little, and there would
be no more school until to-morrow morning, and altogether the doctor was
accustomed to enjoy himself. But on this occasion the poor gentleman was
vexed and disturbed.

"It's a parcel of stuff and nonsense!" said the doctor, jerking his legs
under the table.

"That remains to be proved, papa. If the man has anything of consequence
to say, I shall soon discover it."

"Anything of consequence to say? Fudge! He is coming begging,
perhaps----"

"I don't believe that, papa. Nor, I think, do you in your heart,"
returned Minnie, with a little smile at one side of her mouth.

But the doctor was too much disturbed to smile. "Why shouldn't he come
begging? It won't be his modesty that will stand in his way, I daresay.
Or perhaps he wants to 'convert' you, as these fellows are pleased to
call it!"

"Nobody seems to be afraid of our wanting to convert him!" said Minnie.

"I don't like the sort of thing. I don't like that people should have it
to say that my daughter is honoured with the confidences of a parcel of
ranting, canting cobblers."

"But, papa, would it not--I am speaking in sober sincerity, and because
I really do want your serious answer--don't you think it would be wrong
to be deterred from helping anyone with a kind word or a kind deed, by
the fear of people saying this or that?"

"Helping a fiddlestick!" cried Dr. Bodkin magisterially, but
incoherently.

Minnie's face fell. It had been paler than usual of late, and she had
been suffering and feeble. She never lamented aloud, nor was
importunate, nor even showed weakness of temper; but her father, who
loved her very tenderly, understood the chill look of disappointment
well enough, and it was more than he had strength to bear.

"Of course the man can come and say his say," he added, jerking his legs
again impatiently under the sheltering mahogany, "especially as you say
he is going away from Whitford directly."

"Yes; but there is no guarantee that he will not come back again. I
cannot promise you that, on his behalf."

This unflinching straightforwardness of Minnie's was a fertile source of
trouble between her father and herself.

It was certainly rather hard on the doctor to be forced to surrender
absolutely, without any of those pleasant pretences which are equivalent
to the honours of war. Fortunately--we are limiting ourselves to the
doctor's point of view--fortunately at this moment his eye fell on Mrs.
Bodkin, who, made exquisitely nervous by any collision between the two
great forces that ruled her life, was pushing the decanter of port
backwards and forwards on the slippery table, quite unconscious of that
mechanical movement.

"Laura, what the----mischief are you about? Do you think I want my wine
shaken up like a dose of physic?"

This kind of diversion of the vials of the doctor's wrath on to his
wife's devoted head was no uncommon finale to any altercation in which
the reverend gentleman happened not to be getting altogether the best of
it.

"I think," said Mrs. Bodkin, speaking very quickly, and in a low tone,
as was her wont, "that very likely Mr. Powell wants to interest Minnie
on behalf of Richard Gibbs."

"And who, pray, if I may venture to inquire, is Richard Gibbs?" asked
the doctor, in his most awful grammar-school manner, and with a
sarcastic severity in his eye, as he uttered the name 'Gibbs,' and
looked at Mrs. Bodkin as though he expected her to be very much ashamed
of herself.

"Brother of Jane, our maid. He is a groom at Pudcombe Hall, and a
Wesleyan. Mr. Powell may want to recommend him, or get him a place."

"What, is the fellow going to leave Pudcombe Hall, then?"

"Not that I know of exactly. But it struck me it might be about Richard
Gibbs that he wanted to speak, because Gibbs is a Wesleyan, you know."

"I suppose he wants to meddle and make himself of consequence in some
way. Egotism and conceit--rampant conceit--are the mainsprings that move
such fellows as this Powell."

The doctor rose majestically from the table and walked towards the door.
There he paused, and turning round said to his wife, "May I request,
Laura, that somebody shall take care that I get a cup of hot tea sent to
me in the study? I don't think it is much to request that my tea shall
not be brought to me in a tepid state!"

Mrs. Bodkin had a great gift of holding her tongue on occasions. She
held it now, and the doctor left the room with dignity.

That evening Minnie wrote the following note:--

     "MY DEAR MR. DIAMOND,--I shall be able to see Mr. Powell at one
     o'clock to-morrow. Should that hour not suit his convenience,
     perhaps he will do me the favour to let me know.

     "Yours very truly,

     "M. BODKIN."

It was the first time she had ever written to Mr. Diamond. The
temptation to make her letter longer than was absolutely needful had
been resisted. But the consciousness that the temptation had existed,
and been overcome, was present to Minnie's mind; and she curled her lip
in self-scorn as she thought, "If I wrote him whole pages it would only
bore him. He would prefer one line written in Rhoda's school-girl hand,
out of Rhoda's school-girl head, to the best wit I could give him; aye,
or to the best wit of a wittier woman than I." Then suddenly she tore
the note she had just written across, threw it into the fire, and
watched it blaze and smoulder into blackness. "I will ask you to write a
line for me, mamma," she said, when Mrs. Bodkin re-entered the
drawing-room, after having sent in the doctor's cup of tea to the study.

"To whom, Minnie?"

"To Mr. Diamond. Please say that I will receive Mr. Powell at one
o'clock to-morrow, if that suits him."

"I daresay it is really about Richard Gibbs," said Mrs. Bodkin, as she
sealed her note.

It was not without a slight feeling of nervousness that Minnie Bodkin,
the next day, heard Jane's announcement, "Mr. Powell is below, Miss.
Mistress wishes to know if you would see him in your own room?"

Minnie gave orders that the preacher should be shown upstairs, and Jane
ushered him in very respectfully. Dr. Bodkin's old man-servant took no
pains to hide his disgust at the reception of such a guest; and declared
in the servants' hall that the sight of one of them long-haired, canting
Methodys fairly turned his stomach. But Jane, remembering her brother
Richard's reformation, was less militant in her orthodoxy, and expressed
the opinion that "Mr. Powell was a very good man for all his long
hair"--a revolutionary sentiment which was naturally received with
incredulity and contempt.

Minnie looked up eagerly when the preacher entered the room, and scanned
him with a rapid glance as she asked him to be seated. "I am a poor
feeble creature, Mr. Powell," she said, "who cannot move about at my own
will. So you will forgive my bringing you up here, will you not?"

Powell, on his part, looked at the young lady with a steady, searching
gaze. Minnie was accustomed to be looked at admiringly, affectionately,
deferentially, curiously, pityingly (which she liked least of
all)--sometimes spitefully. But she had never been looked at as David
Powell was looking at her now; that is, as if his spirit were
scrutinising her spirit, altogether regardless of the form which housed
it.

"I thank you gratefully for letting me have speech of you," he said; and
his voice, as he said it, charmed Minnie's sensitive and fastidious ear.

"Do you know, Mr. Powell, that for some time past I have had the wish to
make your acquaintance? But circumstances seemed to make it unlikely
that I ever should do so."

"Yes; it was very unlikely, humanly speaking. But I have no doubt that
our meeting has been brought about in direct answer to prayer."

Minnie was at a loss what to say. It was almost as startling to hear a
man profess such a belief on a week-day, and in a quiet, matter-of-fact
tone, as it would have been to find Madame Malibran conducting all her
conversation in recitative, or to hear Mr. Dockett begin his sentences
with a "whereas."

"You wish to speak to me on behalf of some one, Mr. Diamond tells me?"
said Minnie, after a slight hesitation.

"Yes; you have been kind and gracious to a young girl beneath you in
worldly station, named Rhoda Maxfield."

"Rhoda! Is it of her you wish to speak?" cried Minnie, in great
surprise. She felt a strange sick pang of jealousy. It was for Rhoda's
sake, then, that Mr. Diamond had begged her to receive Powell!

"You are kindly disposed towards the maiden?" said Powell, anxiously;
for Minnie's change of countenance had not escaped him. For her life,
Minnie could not cordially have said "yes" at that moment.

"I--Rhoda is a very good girl, I believe; what would you have me do for
her?"

"I would have you dissuade her from resting her hopes--I speak now
merely of earthly hopes and earthly prudence--on the attachment of one
who is unstable, vain, and worldly-minded."

"What do you mean? I--I do not understand," stammered Minnie, with
fast-beating heart.

"May I speak to you in full confidence? If you tell me I may do so, I
shall trust you utterly."

"What is this matter to me? Why do you come to me about it?"

"Because I have been told by those whose words I believe, that you are
gifted with a clear and strong judgment, as well as with all qualities
that win love."

"You are mistaken. I am not gifted with the qualities that win love,"
said Minnie, bitterly. Then she asked, abruptly, "Did Mr. Diamond advise
you to speak to me about Rhoda?"

"Nay; it was I who had recourse to his intercession to get speech of
you."

"But he knows your errand?"

"In part he knows it. But I was not free to say to him all that I would
fain say to you."

Minnie's face had a hard set look. "Well," she said, after a short
silence, "I cannot refuse to hear you. But I warn you that I do not
believe I can do any good in the matter."

"That will be overruled as the Lord wills."

Then David Powell proceeded to set forth his fears and anxieties about
Rhoda, more fully and clearly than he had done to Diamond. He declared
his conviction that the girl was deceived by false hopes, and was
fretting and pining because every now and then misgivings assailed her
which she could not confess to any one, and because that her conscience
was uneasy. "The maiden is very guileless and tender-natured," said
Powell, softly.

"Don't you think you a little exaggerate her tenderness, Mr. Powell?
Persons capable of strong feelings themselves are apt to attribute all
sorts of sentiments to very wooden-hearted creatures."

He looked at her earnestly, and shook his head.

"Rhoda always seems to me to be rather phlegmatic; very gentle and
pretty, of course. But, do you know, I should not be afraid of her
breaking her heart."

There was a hard tone in Minnie's voice, and a hard expression about her
mouth, which hurt and disappointed the preacher. He had expected some
warmth of sympathy, some word of affection for Rhoda.

"You do not know her," he said sadly.

"And then, Mr. Powell, Algernon Errington----you know, I suppose, that
Mr. Errington is a great friend of mine?"

"I will not willingly say aught to offend you, nor to offend against
Christian courtesy. But there are higher duties--more solemn
promptings--that must not be resisted."

"Oh, I am not offended. But, let me ask you, what right have we to
assume that Mr. Errington has ever deceived Rhoda, or has ever thought
of her otherwise than as the friend and playmate of his childhood?"

"I am convinced that he has led her to believe he means, some day, to
marry her. I cannot resist that conviction."

"Marry her! Why, Mr. Powell, the thing is absurd on the face of it. A
boy of nineteen, and in Algernon's position!--why, any person of common
sense would understand that such an idea could not be looked at
seriously."

Powell made himself some silent reproaches for his want of faith. This
lady might not be soft and sweet; but she had evidently the clear
judgment which he sought for to help Rhoda. And yet he had been
discouraged, and had almost distrusted his "leading," because of a
little coldness of manner. He answered Minnie eagerly:

"It is true! I well know that what you say is true; but will you tell
Rhoda this? Will you plentifully declare to her the thing as it is?"

"Rhoda has her father to advise her, if she needs advice."

"Nay; her father is no adviser for her in this matter. He is an ignorant
man. He does not understand the ways of the world--at least, not of that
world in which the Erringtons hold a place--and he is prejudiced and
stiff-necked."

There was a short silence. Then Minnie said:

"I do not see how I can interfere. I should, in fact, be taking an
unjustifiable liberty, and--Mr. Errington is going away. They will both
forget all about this boy-and-girl nonsense, if people have the wisdom
to let it alone."

"Rhoda will not forget; she will brood silently over her secret
feelings, and her thoughts will be diverted from higher things. She will
fall away into outer darkness. Oh think, a word in season, how good it
is! Consider that you may save a perishing soul by speaking that word. I
have prayed that I might leave behind me in this place the assurance
that this lamb should not be utterly lost out of the fold."

Powell had risen to his feet in his excitement, and walked away from
Minnie towards the window, with his head bent, and his hands clasping
his forehead. Minnie felt something like repulsion, and the sort of
shame which an honest and proud nature feels at any suspicion of
histrionism in one whom it has hitherto respected. Surely the man was
exaggerating--consciously exaggerating--his feeling on this matter! But,
then, Powell turned, and came back towards her; and she saw his face
clearly in the full sunlight, and instantly her suspicion vanished. That
face was wan and haggard with suffering, and there was a strange
brilliancy in the eyes, almost like the brightness of latent tears. The
tears sprang sympathetically to her own eyes as she looked at him. It
was impossible to resist the pathos of that face. There was a strange
appealing expression in it, as of a suffering of which the sufferer was
only half-conscious, that went straight to Minnie's heart.

"Mr. Powell, I am so truly sorry to see you distressed! I wish--I really
do wish--that I could do anything for you!"

"For me! Oh not for me! But stretch out your hands to this poor maiden,
and say words of counsel to her, and of kindness, as one woman may say
them to another. I have borne the burden of that young soul; I have had
it laid upon me to wrestle strongly for her in prayer; I have--have been
assailed with manifold troubles and temptations concerning her. But I am
clear now. I speak with a single mind, and as desiring her higher
welfare from the depths of my heart."

"Good Heaven!" thought Minnie, "what a tragic thing it is to see men
pouring out all the treasures of their love on a thing like this girl!"
For something in Powell's face and voice had pierced her mind with
a lightning-swift conviction that he loved Rhoda Maxfield. Minnie
would have died rather than utter such a speech aloud. The ridicule
which, among sophisticated persons, slinks on the heels of all
strongly-expressed emotion, was too present to her mind, and too
disgusting to her pride, for her to have risked the utterance of such a
speech even to her mother. But there in her mind the words were, "Good
Heaven; how tragic it is!" And she acknowledged to herself, at the same
time, that Powell's lack of sophistication and intensity of fervour
raised him into a sphere wherein ridicule had no place.

"I will do what I can, Mr. Powell," said Minnie, after a pause, looking
with unspeakable pity at his thin, pallid face. "But do not trust too
much to my influence."

"I do trust to it, because it will be strengthened and supported by my
prayers."

Then, when he had said farewell, and was about to go away, she was
suddenly moved by a mixture of feelings, and, as it were, almost against
her will, to say to him, "How good it would be for you to see Rhoda as
she is! A shallow, sweet, poor little nature, as incapable of
appreciating your love as a wren or a ladybird! I like Rhoda, and I am a
poor, shallow creature in many ways myself. But I do recognise things
higher than myself when I see them."

David Powell's face grew crimson with a hot, dark flush, and for an
instant he grasped the back of a chair near him, like a man who reels in
drunkenness. Then he said, "You are very keen to see the truth. You have
seen it. Rhoda is dear to me, as no woman ever has been dear, or will be
again. Once I thought this love was a snare to me. Now--unless in
moments of temptation by the enemy--I know that it is an instrument in
God's hands. It has given me strength to pray, courage to ask you for
your help."

"But you suffer!" cried Minnie, looking at him with knit, earnest brows.
"Why should you suffer for one who does not care for you? It is not
just."

"Who dare ask for justice? I have received mercy--abundant, overflowing
mercy--and shall I not render mercy in my poor degree? But in truth," he
added, in a low voice, and with a smile which Minnie thought the most
strangely sweet she had ever seen--"in truth, I cannot claim that merit.
I can no more help desiring to do good to Rhoda than I can help drawing
my breath. Of others I may say, 'It is my duty to assist this man, to
counsel that one, to endure some hard treatment for the sake of this
other, in order that I may lead them to Christ.' But with Rhoda there is
no sense of sacrifice. I believe that the Lord has appointed me to bring
her to Him. If my feet be cut and bleeding by the way, I cannot heed
it."

"Would you be glad to see Rhoda married to Algernon Errington if he were
to become a religious, earnest man--such a man as your conscientious
judgment must approve?" asked Minnie.

And the minute the words had passed her lips she repented having said
them; they seemed so needlessly cruel; such a ruthless probing of a
tender, quivering soul. "It was as if the devil had put the words into
my mouth," said she afterwards to herself.

But Powell answered very quietly, "I have thought of that often. But I
ask myself such questions no longer. I hold my Father's hand even as a
little child, and whither that hand leads me I shall go safely. It is
not for me to tempt the wrath of the Lord by vain surmises and putting a
case. 'Yea, though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.'"

"You will come back to Whitford, will you not?" asked Minnie.

"If I may. But I know not when. That is not given me to decide. At
present, I feel my conscience in bonds of obedience to the Society."

"Perhaps we may never meet again in this world!" Minnie, as she said the
words, was conscious of a strong fellow-feeling for this man, so far
removed from her in external circumstances.

"May God bless you!" he said, almost in a whisper.

Minnie held out her hand. As he took it lightly in his own for an
instant, he pointed upward with the other hand, and then turned and went
away in silence.

When Dr. Bodkin said a word or two to Minnie that evening, as to her
interview with the "ranting, canting cobbler," she was very reticent and
brief in her answers. But on her father shrugging his shoulders
disparagingly and observing, "It is a good thing that this firebrand is
taking his departure from Whitford. I've been hearing all sorts of
things about him to-day. It seems the fellow even set the Methodists by
the ears among themselves," she exclaimed hotly, "I do declare most
solemnly that this man gives me a more vivid idea of a saint upon
earth--a stumbling, striving, suffering saint--than anything I ever saw
or read."



CHAPTER XVI.


Arrived in London, with an influential patron ready to receive him, and
twenty pounds in his pocket, over and above the sum his mother had
contrived to spare out of her quarter's income, Algernon Errington
considered himself to be a very lucky fellow. He had good health, good
spirits, good looks, and a disposition to make the most of them,
untrammelled by shyness or scruples.

He did feel a little nervous as he drove, the day after his arrival in
town, to Lord Seely's house, but by no means painfully so. He was
undeniably anxious to make a good impression. But his experience, so
far, led him to assume, almost with certainty, that he should succeed in
doing so.

The hackney-coach stopped at the door of a grimy-looking mansion in
Mayfair, but it was a stately mansion withal. In reply to Algernon's
inquiry whether Lord Seely was at home, a solemn servant said that his
lordship was at home, but was usually engaged at that hour. "Will you
carry in my card to him?" said Algernon. "Mr. Ancram Errington."

Algy felt that he had made a false move in coming without any previous
announcement, and in dismissing his cab, when he was shown into a little
closet off the hall, lined with dingy books, and containing only two
hard horsehair chairs, to await the servant's return. There was
something a little flat and ignominious in this his first appearance in
the Seely house, waiting like a dun or an errand-boy, with the
possibility of having to walk out again, without having been admitted to
the light of my lord's countenance. However, within a reasonable time,
the solemn footman returned, and asked him to walk upstairs, as my lady
would receive him, although my lord was for the present engaged.

Algernon followed the man up a softly-carpeted staircase, and through
one or two handsome drawing-rooms--a little dim from the narrowness of
the street and the heaviness of the curtains--into a small cosy boudoir.
There was a good fire on the hearth, and in an easy-chair on one side of
it sat a fat lady, with a fat lap-dog on her knees. The lady, as soon as
she saw Algernon, waved a jewelled hand to keep him off, and said, in a
mellow, pleasant voice, which reminded him of his mother's, "How d'ye
do? Don't shake hands, nor come too near, because Fido don't like it,
and he bites strangers if he sees them touch me. Sit down."

Algernon had made a very agile backward movement on the announcement of
Fido's infirmity of temper; but he bowed, smiled, and seated himself at
a respectful distance opposite to my lady. Lady Seely's appearance
certainly justified Mrs. Errington's frequent assertion that there was a
strong family likeness throughout all branches of the Ancram stock, for
she bore a considerable resemblance to Mrs. Errington herself, and a
still stronger resemblance to a miniature of Mrs. Errington's
grandfather, which Algy had often seen. My lady was some ten years older
than Mrs. Errington. She wore a blonde wig, and was rouged. But her wig
and her rouge belonged to the candid and ingenuous species of
embellishment. Each proclaimed aloud, as it were, "I am wig!" "I am
paint!" with scarcely an attempt at deception.

"So you've come to town," said my lady, fumbling for her eye-glass with
one hand, while with the other she patted and soothed the growling Fido.
Having found the eye-glass, she looked steadily through it at Algernon,
who bore the scrutiny with a good-humoured smile and a little blush,
which became him very well.

"You're very nice-looking, indeed," said my lady.

Algy could not find a suitable reply to this speech, so he only smiled
still more, and made a half-jesting little bow.

"Let me see," pursued Lady Seely, still holding her glass to her eyes,
"what is our exact relationship? You are a relation of mine, you know."

"I am glad to say I have that honour."

"I don't suppose you know much of the family genealogy," said my lady,
who prided herself on her own accurate knowledge of such matters. "My
grandfather and your mother's grandfather were brothers. Your mother's
grandfather was the elder brother. He had a very pretty estate in
Warwickshire, and squandered it all in less than twelve years. I don't
suppose your mother's father had a penny to bless himself with when he
came of age."

"I daresay not, ma'am."

"My grandfather did better. He went to India when he was seventeen, and
came back when he was seventy, with a pot of money. Ah, if my father
hadn't been the youngest of five brothers, I should have been a rich
woman!"

"Your ladyship's grandfather was General Cloudesley Ancram, who
distinguished himself at the siege of Khallaka," said Algernon.

Lady Seely nodded approvingly. "Ah, your mother has taught you that, has
she?" she said. "And what was your father? Wasn't he an apothecary?"

Algernon's face showed no trace of annoyance, except a little increase
of colour in his blooming young cheeks, as he answered, "The fact is,
Lady Seely, that my poor father was an enthusiast about science. He
would study medicine, instead of going into the Church, and availing
himself of the family interest. The consequence was, that he died a poor
M.D. instead of a rich D.D.--or even, who knows? a bishop!"

"La!" said my lady, shortly. Then, after a minute's pause, she added,
"Then, I suppose, you're not very rich, hey?"

"I am as poor, ma'am, as my grandfather, Montagu Ancram, of whom your
ladyship was saying just now that he had not a penny to bless himself
with when he came of age," returned Algernon, laughing.

"Well, you seem to take it very easy," said my lady. And once more she
looked at him through her eye-glass. "And what made you come to town,
all the way from what-d'ye-call-it? Have you got anything to do?"

"N--nothing definite, exactly," said Algernon.

"H'm! Quiet, Fido!"

"I ventured to hope that Lord Seely--that perhaps my lord--might----"

"Oh, dear, you mustn't run away with that idea!" exclaimed her ladyship.
"There ain't the least chance of my lord being able to do anything for
you. He's torn to pieces by people wanting places, and all sorts of
things."

"I was about to say that I ventured to hope that my lord would kindly
give me some advice," said Algernon. As he said it his heart was like
lead. He had not, of course, expected to be at once made Secretary of
State, or even to pop immediately into a clerkship at the Foreign
Office. He had put the matter very soberly and moderately before his own
mind, as he thought. He had told himself that a word of encouragement
from his high and mighty cousin should be thankfully received, and that
he would neither be pushing nor impatient, accepting a very small
beginning cheerfully. But it had never occurred to him to prepare
himself for an absolute flat refusal of all assistance. My lady's tone
was one of complete decision. And it was in vain he reflected that my
lady might be speaking more harshly and decisively than she had any
warrant for doing, being led to that course by the necessity of
protecting herself and her husband against importunity. None the less
was his heart very heavy within him. And he really deserved some credit
for gallantry in bearing up against the blow.

"Advice!" said my lady, echoing his word. "Oh, well, that ain't so
difficult. What are you fit for?"

"Perhaps I am scarcely the best judge of that, am I?" returned Algernon,
with that childlike raising of the eyebrows which gave so winning an
expression to his face.

"Perhaps not; but what do you think?"

"Well, I--I believe I could fill the post of secretary, or----What I
should like," he went on, in a sudden burst of candour, and looking
deprecatingly at Lady Seely, like a child asking for sugar-plums, "would
be to get attached to one of our foreign legations."

"I daresay! But that's easier said than done. And as to being a
secretary, it's precious hard work, I can tell you, if you're paid for
it; and, of course, no post would suit you that didn't pay."

"I shouldn't mind hard work."

"You wouldn't be much of an Ancram if you liked it; I can tell you I
know that much! Well, and how long do you mean to stay in town?"

"That is quite uncertain."

"You must come and see me again before you go, and be introduced to Lord
Seely."

"Oh, indeed, I hope so."

Come and see her again before he went! What would his mother say, what
would his Whitford friends say, if they could hear that speech?
Nevertheless, he answered very cheerfully:

"Oh, indeed, I hope so!" And interpreting my lady's words as a
dismissal, rose to go.

"You're really uncommonly nice-looking," said Lady Seely, observing his
straight, slight figure, and his neatly-shod feet as he stood before
her. "Oh, you needn't look shame-faced about it. It's no merit of yours;
but it's a great thing, let me tell you, for a young fellow without a
penny to have an agreeable appearance. How old are you?"

"Twenty," said Algernon, anticipating his birthday by two months.

"Do you know, I think Fido will like you!" said my lady, who observed
the fact that her favourite had neither barked nor growled when Algernon
rose from his chair. "I'm sure I hope he will; he is so unpleasant when
he takes a dislike to people."

Algernon thought so too; but he merely said, "Oh, we shall be great
friends, I daresay; I always get on with dogs."

"Ah, but Fido is peculiar. You can't coax him and he gets so much to
eat that you can't bribe him. If he likes you, he likes you--_voilà
tout_! By-the-way, do you understand French?"

"Yes; pretty fairly. I like it."

"Do you? But, as to your accent--I'm afraid that cannot be much to boast
of. English provincial French is always so very dreadful."

"Well, I don't know," said Algernon, with perfect good humour, for he
believed himself to be on safe ground here; "but the old Duc de
Villegagnon, an _émigré_, who was my master, used to say that I did not
pronounce the words of my little French songs so badly."

"Bless the boy! Can you sing French songs? Do sit down, then, at the
piano, and let me hear one! Never mind Fido." (Her ladyship had set her
favourite on the floor, and he was sniffing at Algernon's legs.) "He
don't dislike music, except a brass band. Sit down, now!"

Algernon obeyed, seated himself at the pianoforte, and began to run his
fingers over the keys. He found the instrument a good deal out of tune;
but began, after a minute's pause, a forgotten chansonette, from "Le
Petit Chaperon Rouge." He sang with taste and spirit, though little
voice; and his French accent proved to be so surprisingly good, as to
elicit unqualified approbation from Lady Seely.

"Why, I declare that's charming!" she cried, clapping her hands. "How on
earth did you pick up all that in--what's-its-name? Do look here, my
lord, here's young Ancram come up from that place in the West of
England, and he can play the piano and sing French songs delightfully!"

Algernon jumped up in a little flurry, and, turning round, found himself
face to face with his magnificent relative, Lord Seely.

Now it must be owned that "magnificent" was not quite the epithet that
could justly be applied to Lord Seely's personal appearance. He was a
small, delicately-made man, with a small, delicately-featured face, and
sharp, restless dark eyes. His grey hair stood up in two tufts, one
above each ear, and the top of his head was bald, shining, and
yellowish, like old ivory. "Eh?" said he. "Oh! Mr.--a--a, how d'ye do?"
Then he shook hands with Algernon, and courteously motioning him to
resume his seat, threw himself into a chair by the hearth, opposite to
his wife. He stretched out his short legs to their utmost possible
length before him, and leant his head back wearily.

"Tired, my lord?" asked his wife.

"Why, yes, a little. Dictating letters is a fatiguing business,
Mr.--a--a--"

"Errington, my lord; Ancram Errington."

"Oh, to be sure! I'm very glad to see you; very glad indeed. Yes, yes;
Mr. Errington. You are a cousin of my lady's? Of course. Very glad."

And Lord Seely got up and shook hands once more with Algernon, whose
identity he had evidently only just recognised. But, although tardy, the
peer's greeting was more than civil, it was kind; and Algernon's
gratitude was in direct proportion to the chill disappointment he had
felt at Lady Seely's discouraging words.

"Thank you, sir," he said, pressing the small thin white hand that was
proffered to him. And Algy's way of saying "Thank you, sir," was
admirable, and would have made the fortune of a young actor on the
stage; for, in saying it, he had sufficient real emotion to make the
simulated emotion quite touching--as an actor should have.

My lord sat down again, wearily. "Bush has been with me again about that
emigration scheme of his," he said to his wife. "Upon my honour, I don't
know a more trying person than Bush." When he had thus spoken, he cast
his eyes once more upon Algernon, who said, in the most artless,
impulsive way in the world, "It's a poor-spirited kind of thing, no
doubt; but, really, when one sees what a hard time of it statesmen have,
one can't help feeling sometimes that it is pleasant to be nobody."

Now the word "statesman" applied to Lord Seely was scarcely more correct
than the word "magnificent" applied to his outer man. The fact was, that
Lord Seely had been, from his youth upward, ambitious of political
distinction, and had, indeed, filled a subordinate post in the Cabinet
some twenty years previous to the day on which Algernon first made his
acquaintance. But he had been a mere cypher there; and the worst of it
was, that he had been conscious of being a cypher. He had not strength
of character or ability to dominate other men, and he had too much
intelligence to flatter himself that he succeeded, where success had
eluded his pursuit. Stupider men had done better for themselves in the
world than Valentine Sackville Strong, Lord Seely, and had gained more
solid slices of success than he. Perhaps there is nothing more
detrimental to the achievement of ascendancy over others than that
intermittent kind of intellect, which is easily blown into a flame by
vanity, but is as easily cooled down again by the chilly suggestions of
common sense. The vanity which should be able to maintain itself always
at white heat would be a triumphant thing. The common sense which never
flared up to an enthusiastic temperature would be a safe thing. But the
alternation of the two was felt to be uncomfortable and disconcerting by
all who had much to do with Lord Seely. He continued, however, to keep
up a semblance of political life. He had many personal friends in the
present ministry, and there were one or two men who were rather
specially hostile to him among the Opposition; of which latter he was
very proud, liking to speak of his "enemies" in the House. He spoke
pretty frequently from his place among the peers, but nobody paid him
any particular attention. And he wrote and printed, at his own expense,
a considerable number of political pamphlets; but nobody read them.
That, however, may have been due to the combination against his lordship
which existed among the writers for the public press, who never, he
complained, reported his speeches _in extenso_, and, with few
exceptions, ignored his pamphlets altogether.

Howbeit, the word "statesman" struck pleasantly upon the little
nobleman's ear, and he bestowed a more attentive glance on Algernon than
he had hitherto honoured him with, and asked, in his abrupt tones, like
a series of muffled barks, "Going to be long in town, Mr. Ancram?"

"I've just been asking him," interposed my lady. "He don't know for
certain. But----" And here she whispered in her husband's ear.

"Oh, I hope so," said the latter aloud. "My lady and I hope that you
will do us the favour to dine with us to-morrow--eh? Oh, I beg your
pardon, Belinda, I thought you said to-morrow!--on Thursday next. We
shall probably be alone, but I hope you will not mind that?"

"I shall take it as a great favour, my lord," said Algernon, whose
spirits had been steadily rising, ever since the successful performance
of his French song.

"You know, Mr. Ancram--I mean Mr. Errington--is a cousin of mine, my
lord; so he won't expect to be treated with ceremony."

Algernon felt as if he could have flown downstairs when, after this most
gracious speech, he took leave of his august relatives. But he walked
very soberly instead, down the staircase and past the solemn servants in
the hall, with as much nonchalance as if he had been accustomed to the
service of powdered lackeys from his babyhood.

"He seems an intelligent, gentleman-like young fellow," said my lord to
my lady.

"Oh, he's as sharp as a weasel, and uncommonly nice-looking. And he
sings French songs ever so much better than that theatre man that the
Duchess made such a fuss about. He has the trick of drawing the long
bow, which all the Warwickshire Ancrams were famous for. Oh, there's no
doubt about his belonging to the real breed! He told me a
cock-and-a-bull story about his father's devotion to science. I believe
his father was a little apothecary in Birmingham. But I don't know that
that much matters," said my lady to my lord.



CHAPTER XVII.


Algernon was elated by the success of his song, and by Lady Seely's full
acknowledgment of his cousinship, and he left the mansion in Mayfair in
very good spirits, as has been said. But when he got back to his inn--a
private hotel in a dingy street behind Oxford Street--he began to feel a
recurrence of the disappointment which had oppressed him, when Lady
Seely had declared so emphatically that my lord could do nothing for
him, in the way of getting him a place. What was to be done? It was all
very well for his mother to say that, with his talents and appearance,
he must and would make his way to a high position; but, just and
reasonable as it would be that his talents and appearance should give
him success, he began to fear that they might not altogether avail to do
so. He thought of Mr. Filthorpe--that substance, which Mr. Diamond had
said they were deserting for the shadow of Seely--and of the thousands
of pounds which the Bristol merchant possessed. Truly a stool in a
counting-house was not the post which Algernon coveted. And he candidly
told himself that he should not be able to fill it effectively. But,
still, there would have been at least as good a chance of fascinating
Mr. Filthorpe as of fascinating Lord Seely, and the looked-for result of
the fascination in either case was to be absolution from the necessity
of doing any disagreeable work whatever. And, moreover, Mr. Filthorpe,
at all events, would have supplied board and lodging and a small salary,
whilst he was undergoing the progress of being fascinated.

Algernon looked thoughtful and anxious, for full a quarter of an hour,
as he pondered these things. But then he fell into a fit of laughter at
the recollection of Lady Seely and Fido. "There is something very absurd
about that old woman," said he to himself. "She is so impudent! And why
wear a wig at all, if a wig is to be such a one as hers? A turban or a
skull-cap would do just as well to cover her head with. But then they
wouldn't be half so funny. Fido is something like his mistress--nearly
as fat, and with the same style of profile."

Then he set himself to draw a caricature representing Fido, attired
after the fashion of Lady Seely, and became quite cheerful and buoyant
over it.

In the interval between the day of his visit to the Seelys and the
Thursday on which he was to dine with them, Algernon made one or two
calls, and delivered a couple of letters of introduction, with which his
Whitford friends had furnished him. One was from Dr. Bodkin to an
old-fashioned solicitor, who was reputed to be rich, but who lived in a
very quiet way, in a very quiet square, and gave very quiet little
dinners to a select few who could appreciate a really fine glass of
port. The other letter was to a sister of young Mr. Pawkins, of Pudcombe
Hall, married to the chief clerk of the Admiralty, who lived in a
fashionable neighbourhood, and gave parties as fashionable as her
visiting-list permitted, and by no means desired any special
connoisseurship in wine on the part of her guests.

On the occasion of his first calls, Algernon found neither Mr.
Leadbeater, the solicitor, nor Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs (that was the name of
young Pawkins's sister) at home. So he left his letters and cards, and
wandered about the streets in a rather forlorn way; for although it was
his first visit to London, it was not possible for him to get much
enjoyment out of the metropolis, all alone. To him every place, even
London, appeared in the light of a stage or background, whereon that
supremely interesting personage, himself, might figure to more or less
advantage. Now London is a big theatre. And although a big theatre full
of spectators may be very exhilarating to the object of public attention
who performs in it, a big theatre, practically barren of
spectators--for, of course, the only real spectators are the spectators
who look at _us_--is apt to oppress the mind with a sense of desertion.
So he was very glad when Thursday evening came, and he found himself
once more within the hall door of Lord Seely's house.

My lord was in the drawing-room alone, standing on the hearth-rug. He
shook hands very kindly with Algernon, and bade him come near to the
fire and warm himself, for the evening was cold.

"And what have you been doing with yourself, Mr. Errington?" asked Lord
Seely.

"I have been chiefly employed to-day in losing myself and asking my
way," answered Algernon, laughing. And then he began an account of his
adventures, and absolutely surprised himself by the amount of fun and
sparkle he contrived to elicit from the narration of circumstances which
had been in fact dull and commonplace enough.

My lord was greatly amused, and once even laughed out loud at Algernon's
imitation of an Irish apple-woman, who had misdirected him with the best
intentions, and much calling down of blessings on his handsome face, in
return for a silver sixpence.

"Capital!" said my lord, nodding his head up and down.

"The sixpence was badly invested, though," observed Algernon, "for she
sent me about three miles out of my way."

"Ah, but the blarney! You forget the blessing and the blarney. Surely
they were worth the money, eh?"

"No, my lord; not to me. I can't afford expensive luxuries."

Lady Seely, when she entered the room, gorgeous in pea-green satin,
which singularly set off the somewhat pronounced tone of her rouge,
found Algy and my lord laughing together very merrily, and, as she gave
her hand to her young relative, demanded to be informed what the joke
was.

Now it has been said that Algernon was possessed of wonderfully rapid
powers of perception, and by sundry signs, so slight that they would
have entirely escaped most observers, this clever young gentleman
perceived that my lady was not altogether delighted at finding her
husband and himself on such easy and pleasant terms together. In fact,
my lady, with all her blunt careless jollity of manner and pleasant
mellow voice, was apt to be both jealous and suspicious. She was jealous
of her ascendancy over Lord Seely, who was said by the ill-natured to be
completely under his wife's thumb, and she was suspicious of most
strangers--especially of strangers who might be expected to want
anything of his lordship. And she usually assumed that such persons
would endeavour to "come over" that nobleman, when he was apart from his
wife's protecting influence. She had a general theory that "men might be
humbugged into anything;" and a particular experience that Lord Seely,
despite his stiff carriage and abrupt manner, was in truth far
softer-natured than she was herself.

"That young scamp has been coming over Valentine with his jokes and his
flummery," said my lady to herself. "He's an Ancram, every inch of him."

At that very moment Algernon was mentally declaring that the conquest of
my lady would, after all, be a more difficult matter than that of my
lord; but that, by some means or other, the conquest must be made, if
any good was to come to him from the Seely connection. And a stream of
easy chat flowed over these underlying intentions and hid them, except
that here and there, perhaps, a bubble or an eddy told of rough places
out of sight.

After some ten minutes of desultory talk, my lady was obliged to own to
herself that the "young scamp" had a wonderfully good manner. Without a
trace of servility, he was respectful; conveying, with perfect tact,
exactly the sort of homage that was graceful and becoming from a youth
like himself to persons of the Seelys' age and position. Neither did he
commit the error of becoming familiar, in response to Lady Seely's tone
of familiarity, a pitfall which had before now entrapped the unwary. For
my lady, whom Nature had created vulgar--having possibly, in the hurry
of business, mistaken one kind of clay for another, and put some low
person's mind into the fine porcelain of an undoubted Ancram--was fond
of asserting her position in the world by a rough unceremoniousness in
the first place, and a very wide-eyed arrogance in the second place, if
such unceremoniousness chanced to be reciprocated by unauthorised
persons.

"Do we wait for any one, Belinda?" asked Lord Seely.

"The Dormers are coming. They're such great musicians, you know. And I
want Lady Harriet to hear this boy sing. And then there may be Jack
Price, very likely."

"Very likely?" said my lord, raising his eyebrows and stiffening his
back. "Doesn't Mr. Price do us the honour of saying positively whether
he will come or not?"

"Oh, you know what Jack Price is. He says he'll come, and nine times out
of ten he don't come; and then the tenth time he comes, and people have
to put up with him."

My lord cleared his throat significantly, as who should say that he, at
all events, did not feel inclined to put up with this system of tithes
in the fulfilment of Mr. Jack Price's promises.

"If he comes," said Lady Seely, addressing Algernon, "you'll have to
walk into dinner by yourself. I've only got one young lady; and, if Jack
comes, he must have her."

"Where is Castalia?" asked my lord.

"Oh, I suppose she's dressing. Castalia is always the slowest creature
at her toilet I ever knew."

Algernon had read up the family genealogy in the "Peerage," under his
mother's instructions, sufficiently to be aware that Lord and Lady Seely
were childless, having lost their only son in a boating accident years
ago. "Castalia," then, could not be a daughter of the house. Who was
she? A young lady who was evidently at present living with the Seelys,
whom they called by her Christian name, and who was habitually a long
time at her toilet! Algernon felt a little agreeable excitement and
curiosity on the subject of the tardy Castalia.

The door was thrown open. "Here she comes!" thought Algernon, settling
his cravat as he threw a quick side glance at a mirror.

"General and Lady Harriet Dormer," announced the servant.

There entered a tall, elegant woman, leaning on the arm of a short,
stout, benevolent-looking man in spectacles. To these personages
Algernon was duly presented, being introduced, much to his
gratification, by Lady Seely, as "A young cousin of mine, Mr. Ancram
Errington, who has just come to town." Then, having made his bow to
General Dormer, who smiled and shook hands with him, Algernon stood
opposite to the graceful Lady Harriet, and was talked to very kindly and
pleasantly, and felt extremely content with himself and his
surroundings. Nevertheless he watched with some impatience for the
appearance of "Castalia;" and forgot his usual self-possession so far as
to turn his head, and break off in the middle of a sentence he was
uttering to Lady Harriet, when he heard the door open again. But once
more he was disappointed; for, this time, dinner was announced, and Lord
Seely offered his arm to Lady Harriet and led the way out of the room.

"No Jack," said Lady Seely, as she passed out before Algernon. "And no
Castalia!" said my lord over his shoulder, in a tone of vexation.

Algernon followed his seniors alone; but just as he got out on to the
staircase there appeared a lady, leisurely descending from an upper
floor, at whom Lord Seely looked up reproachfully.

"Late, late, Castalia!" said he, and shook his head solemnly.

"Oh no, Uncle Valentine; just in time," replied the lady.

"Castalia, take Ancram's arm, and do let us get to dinner before the
soup is cold," said Lady Seely. "Give your arm to Miss Kilfinane, and
come along." And her ladyship's pea-green satin swept downstairs after
Lady Harriet's sober purple draperies. Algernon bowed, and offered his
arm to the lady beside him; she placed her hand on it almost without
looking at him, and they entered the dining-room without having
exchanged a word.

The dining-room was better lighted than the staircase, and Algernon took
an early opportunity of looking at his companion. She was not very
young, being, in fact, nearly thirty, but looking older. Neither was she
handsome. She was very thin, sallow, and sickly-looking, with a small
round face, not wrinkled, but crumpled, as it were, into queer, fretful
lines. Her eyes were bright and well-shaped, but deeply sunken, and she
had a great deal of thick, pale-brown hair, worn in huge bows and
festoons on the top of her head, according to the extreme of the mode of
that day. Her dress displayed more than it was judicious to display, in
an æsthetic point of view, of very lean shoulders, and was of a bright,
soft, pink hue, that would have been trying to the most blooming
complexion. Altogether, the Honourable Castalia Kilfinane's appearance
was disappointing, and her manner was not so attractive as to make up
for lack of beauty. Her face expressed a mixture of querulousness and
hauteur, and she spoke in a languid drawl, with strange peevish
inflections.

"You and I ought to be some sort of relations to each other, oughtn't
we?" said Algernon, having taken in all the above particulars in a
series of rapid observations.

"Why?" returned the lady, without raising her eyes from her soup-plate.

"Because you are Lady Seely's niece and I am her cousin."

"Who says that I am Lady Seely's niece?"

"I thought," stammered Algernon--"I fancied--you called Lord Seely
'Uncle Valentine?'"

Even his equanimity, and a certain glow of complacency he felt at
finding himself where he was, were a little disturbed by Miss
Castalia's freezing manner.

"I am Lord Seely's niece," returned she.

Then, after a little pause, having finished her soup, she leaned back in
her chair and stared at Algernon, who pretended--not quite
successfully--to be unconscious of her scrutiny. Apparently, the result
of it was favourable to Algernon; for the lady's manner thawed
perceptibly, and she began to talk to him. She had evidently heard of
him from Lady Seely, and understood the exact degree of his relationship
to that great lady.

"Did you ever meet the Dormers before?" asked Miss Kilfinane.

"Never. How should I? You know I am the merest country mouse. I never
was in London in my life, until last Friday."

"Oh, but the Dormers don't live in town. Indeed, they are here very
seldom. You might have met them; their place is in the West of England."

Algernon, after a rapid balancing of pros and cons, resolved to be
absolutely candid. With his brightest smile and most arched eyebrows, he
began to give Miss Kilfinane an almost unvarnished description of his
life at Whitford. Almost unvarnished; but it is no more easy to tell the
simple truth only occasionally, than it is to stand quite upright only
occasionally. Mind and muscles will fall back to their habitual
posture. So that it may be doubted whether Miss Kilfinane received an
accurate notion of the precise degree of poverty and obscurity in which
the young man who was speaking to her had hitherto lived.

"And so," said she, "you have come to London to----"

"To seek my fortune," said Algernon merrily. "It is the proper and
correct beginning to a story. And I think I have had a piece of good
luck at the very outset by way of a good omen."

Miss Kilfinane opened her eyes interrogatively, but said nothing.

"I think it was a piece of luck for me," continued Algernon, emboldened
by having secured the scornful lady's attention, and perhaps a little
also by the wine he had drunk, "a great piece of good luck that Mr. Jack
Price, whoever he may be, did not turn up this evening."

"Why?"

"Because, if he had, I should not have been allowed the honour of
bringing you in to dinner."

"Oh yes! I should have had to go in with Jack, I suppose," answered the
lady with a little smile.

"Please, Miss Kilfinane, who is Jack Price? I do so want to know!"

"Jack Price is Lord Mullingar's son."

"But what is he? And why do people want to have him so much, that they
put up with his disappointing them nine times out of ten?"

"As to what he is--well, he was in the Guards, and he gave that up. Then
they got him a place somewhere--in Africa, or South America, or
somewhere--and he gave that up. Then he got the notion that he would be
a farmer in Canada, and went out with an axe to cut down the trees, and
a plough to plough the ground afterwards, and he gave that up. Now he
does nothing particular."

"And has he found his vocation at last?"

"I don't know, I'm sure," said Miss Kilfinane, languidly. Her power of
perceiving a joke was very limited.

"Thanks. Now I know all about Mr. Price; except--except why everybody
wants to invite him."

"That I really cannot tell you."

"Then you don't share the general enthusiasm about him?"

"I don't know that there is any general enthusiasm. Only, of
course--don't you know how it is?--people have got into the way of
putting up with him, and letting him do as he likes."

"He's a very fortunate young man, I should say."

"Young man!" Miss Kilfinane laughed a hard little laugh. "Why Jack
Price is ever so old!"

"Ever so old, is he?" echoed Algernon, genuinely surprised.

"He must be turned forty," said the fair Castalia, rising in obedience
to a look from Lady Seely. And if she had been but fifteen herself, she
could not have said it with a more infantine air.

After the ladies had withdrawn, Algernon had to sit for about twenty
minutes in the shade, as it were, silent, and listening with modesty and
discretion to the conversation of his seniors. Had they talked politics,
Algernon would have been able to throw in a word or two; but Lord Seely
and his guest talked, not of principles or party, but of persons. The
persons talked of were such as Lord Seely conceived to be useful or
hostile to his party, and he discussed their conduct, and criticised the
tactics of ministers in regard to them, with much warmth. But,
unfortunately, Algernon neither knew, nor could pretend to know,
anything about these individuals, so he sipped his wine, and looked at
the family portraits which hung round the room, in silence.

My lord made a kind of apology to him, as they were going upstairs to
the drawing-room.

"I'm afraid you were bored, Mr. Errington. I am sorry, for your sake,
that Mr. Price did not honour us with his company. You would have found
him much more amusing than us old fogies."

Algernon knew, when Lord Seely talked of Mr. Price not having honoured
them with his company, that my lord was indignant against that
gentleman. "I have no doubt Mr. Price is a very agreeable person," said
he, "but I did not regret him, my lord. I thought it a great privilege
to be allowed to listen to you."

Later in the evening Algy overheard Lord Seely say to General Dormer,
"He's a remarkably intelligent young fellow, I assure you."

"He has a capital manner," returned the general. "There is something
very taking about him, indeed."

"Oh yes, manner; yes; a very good manner--but there's more judgment,
more solidity about him than appears on the surface."

Meanwhile, Algernon went on flourishingly, and ingratiated himself with
every one. He steered his way, with admirable tact, past various perils,
such as must inevitably threaten one who aims at universal popularity.
Lady Harriet was delighted with his singing, and Lady Harriet's
expressed approbation pleased Lady Seely; for the Dormers were
considered to be great musical connoisseurs, and their judgment had
considerable weight among their own set. Their own set further supposed
that the verdict of the Dormers was important to professional artists: a
delusion which the givers of second-rate concerts, who depended on Lady
Harriet to get rid of many seven-and-sixpenny tickets during the season,
were at no pains to disturb. Then, Algernon took the precaution to keep
away from Lord Seely, and to devote himself to my lady, during the
remainder of the evening. This behaviour had so good an effect, that she
called him "Ancram," and bade him go and talk to Castalia, who was
sitting alone on a distant ottoman, with a distinctly sour expression of
countenance.

"How did you get on with Castalia at dinner?" asked my lady.

"Miss Kilfinane was very kind to me, ma'am."

"Was she? Well, she don't make herself agreeable to everybody, so
consider yourself honoured. Castalia's a very clever girl. She can draw,
make wax flowers, and play the piano beautifully."

"Can she really? Will she play to-night?"

"I'm sure I don't know. Go and ask her."

"May I?"

"Yes; be off."

Miss Kilfinane did not move or raise her eyes when Algernon went and
stood before her.

"I have come with a petition," he said, after a little pause.

"Have you?"

"Yes; will you play to-night?"

"No."

"Oh, that's very cruel! I wish you would!"

"I don't like playing before the Dormers. They set up for being such
connoisseurs, and I hate that kind of thing."

"I am sure you can have no reason to fear their criticism."

"I don't want to have my performance picked to pieces in that knowing
sort of way. I play for my own amusement, and I don't want to be
criticised, and applauded, and patronised."

"But how can people help applauding when you play? Lady Seely says you
play exquisitely."

"Did she tell you to ask me to play?"

"Not exactly. But she said I might ask you."

At this moment General Dormer came up, and said, with his most
benevolent smile, "Won't you give us a little music, Miss Kilfinane?
Some Beethoven, now! I see a volume of his sonatas on the piano."

"I hate Beethoven," returned Miss Kilfinane.

"Hate Beethoven! No, no, you don't. It's quite impossible! A pianist
like you! Oh no, Miss Kilfinane, it is out of the question."

"Yes, I do. I hate all classical music, and the sort of stuff that
people talk about it."

The general smiled again, shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and
walked away.

"Miss Kilfinane, you are ferociously cruel!" said Algernon under his
breath as General Dormer turned his back on them. The little fear he had
had of Castalia's chilly manner and ungracious tongue had quite
vanished. Algernon was not apt to be in awe of anyone; and he certainly
was not in awe of Castalia Kilfinane. "Why did you tell the general that
you hated Beethoven?" he went on saucily. "I'm quite sure you don't hate
Beethoven!"

"I hate all the kind of professional jargon which the Dormers affect
about music. Music is all very well, but it isn't our business, any more
than tailoring or millinery is our business. To hear the Dormers talk,
you would think it the most important matter in the world to decide
whether this fiddler is better than that fiddler, or what is the right
time to play a fugue of Bach's in."

"I'm such an ignoramus that I'm afraid I don't even know with any
precision what a fugue of Bach's is!" said Algernon, ingenuously. He
thought he had learned to understand Miss Castalia. Nevertheless, when,
later in the evening, Lady Harriet asked him in her pretty silver tones,
"And do you, too, hate classical music, Mr. Errington?" he professed the
most unbounded love and reverence for the great masters. "I have had few
opportunities of hearing fine music, Lady Harriet," said he; "but it is
the thing I have longed for all my life." Whereupon Lady Harriet, much
pleased at the prospect of such a disciple, invited him to go to her
house every Saturday morning, when he would hear some of the best
performers in London execute some of the best music. "I only ask real
listeners," said Lady Harriet. "We are just a few music-lovers who take
the thing very much _au sérieux_."

On the whole, when Algernon thought over his evening, sitting over the
fire in his bedroom at the inn, he acknowledged to himself that he had
been successful. "Lady Seely is the toughest customer, though! What a
fish-wife she looks beside that elegant Lady Harriet! But she can put on
airs of a great lady too, when she likes. It's a very fine line that
divides dignity from impudence. Take her wig off, wash her face, and
clothe her in a short cotton gown with a white apron, and how many
people would know that Belinda, Lady Seely, had ever been anything but a
cook, or the landlady of a public-house? Well, I think I am cleverer
than any of 'em. And, after all, that's a great point." With which
comfortable reflection Algernon Ancram Errington went to bed, and to
sleep.



CHAPTER XVIII.


On the day following the dinner at Lord Seely's, Algernon received a
card, importing that Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs would be at home that evening.

Of the lady he knew nothing, except that she was an elder sister of
young Pawkins, of Pudcombe Hall; and that her family, who were people of
consideration in Whitford and its neighbourhood, thought Jemima to have
made a good match in marrying Mr. Machyn-Stubbs. In giving him the
letter of introduction, Orlando Pawkins had let fall a word or two as to
the position his sister held in London society.

"I can't send anybody and everybody to the Machyn-Stubbses," said young
Pawkins. "In their position, it wouldn't be fair to inflict our bucolic
magnates on them. But I'm sure Jemima will be very glad to make your
acquaintance, old fellow."

Algernon was quite free from arrogance. He would have been well enough
contented to dine with Mr. Machyn-Stubbs, had that gentleman been a
grocer or a cheesemonger. And, in that case, he would probably have
derived a good deal of amusement from any little vulgarities which might
have marked the manners of his host, and would have entertained his
genteeler friends by a humorous imitation of the same. But he was not in
the least overawed by the prospect of meeting Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs, and
was quite aware that he probably owed his introduction to her, to young
Pawkins's knowledge of the fact that he was Lady Seely's relation.

Algernon betook himself to the house of Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs, in the
fashionable neighbourhood before mentioned, about half-past ten o'clock,
and found the small reception-rooms already fuller than was agreeable.
Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs received him very graciously. She was a pretty woman,
with a smooth fair face and light hair, and she was dressed with as much
good taste as was compatible with the extreme of the prevailing fashion.
She smiled a good deal, and was quite destitute of any sense of humour.

"So glad to see you, Mr. Errington," said she, when Algernon had made
his bow. "You and Orlando are great friends, are you not? You must let
me make you acquainted with my husband." Then she handed Algernon over
to a stout, red-faced, white-haired gentleman, much older than herself,
who shook hands with him, said, "How d'ye do?" and "How long have you
been in town?" and then appeared to consider that he had done all that
could be expected of him in the way of conversation.

"I suppose you don't know many people here, Mr. Errington?" said Mrs.
Machyn-Stubbs, seeing that Algernon was standing silent in the shadow of
her husband.

"Not any. You know I have never been in London before."

"Haven't you, really? But perhaps we may have some mutual acquaintances
notwithstanding. Let me see who is here!" said the lady, looking round
her rooms.

"Are you acquainted with the Dormers, Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs?"

"The Dormers? Let me see----"

"General and Lady Harriet Dormer."

"Oh! no; I don't think I am. Of course I must have met them. In the
course of the season, sooner or later, one meets everybody."

"Do you know Miss Kilfinane?"

"Miss Kilfinane? I--I can't recall at this moment----"

"She is a sort of connection of mine; not a relation, for she is Lord
Seely's niece, not my lady's."

"Oh, to be sure! You are a cousin of Lady Seely. Yes, yes; I had
forgotten. But Orlando did mention it."

In truth, the fact of Algernon's relationship to Lady Seely was the only
one concerning him which had dwelt in Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs's memory.
Presently she resumed:

"I should like to introduce you to a great friend of ours--the most
delightful creature! I hope he will come to-night, but he is very
difficult to catch. He is a son of Lord Mullingar."

"What, Jack Price?"

"Oh, you know him, do you?"

"Only by reputation. He was to have dined at Lord Seely's last night,
when I was there. But he didn't show."

"Oh, I know he's dreadfully uncertain. But I must say, however, that he
is generally very good about coming to me. It's quite wonderful. I'm
sure I don't know why I am so favoured!"

Then Algernon was presented to a rather awful dowager, with two stiff
daughters, to whom he talked as well as he could; and the nicest looking
of whom he took into the tea-room, where there was a great crush, and
where people trod on each other's toes, and poked their elbows into
each other's ribs, to procure a cup of hay-coloured tea and a biscuit
that had seen better days.

"Upon my word," thought Algernon, "if this is London society, I think
Whitford society better fun." But then he reflected that Mrs.
Machyn-Stubbs was not a real leader of fashionable society. She was not
quite a rose herself, although she lived near enough to the roses for
their scent to cling, more or less faintly, about her garments. He was
not bored, for his quick powers of perception, and lively appreciation
of the ludicrous, enabled him to gather considerable amusement from the
scene. Especially did he feel amused and in his element when, on an
allusion to his cousinship to Lady Seely, thrown out in the airiest,
most haphazard way, the awful dowager and the stiff daughters unbent,
and became as gracious as temperament in the one case, and painfully
tight stays in the other, permitted.

"He's a very agreeable person, your young friend, Mr. Ancram Errington,"
said the dowager, later on in the evening, to Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs.

"Oh yes; he's very nice indeed. He is a great favourite with my people.
He half lives at our place, I believe, when Orlando is at home."

"Indeed! He is--a--a--connected with the Seelys, I believe, in some
way?"

"Second cousin. Lady Seely was an Ancram--Warwickshire Ancrams, you
know," returned Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs, who knew her "Peerage" nearly by
heart. Whereupon the dowager went back to her daughter, by whose side,
having nothing else to do, Algernon was still sitting, and told him that
she should be happy to see him at her house in Portland Place any Friday
afternoon, between four and six o'clock during the season.

Presently, when the company was giving forth a greater amount and louder
degree of talk than had hitherto been the case--for Herr Doppeldaun had
just sat down to the grand piano--Algernon's quick eyes perceived a
movement near the door of the principal drawing-room, and saw Mrs.
Machyn-Stubbs advance with extended hand, and more eagerness than she
had thrown into her reception of most of the company, to greet a
gentleman who entered with a kind of plunge, tripping over a bearskin
rug that lay before the door, and dropping his hat.

He was a short, broad-chested man, with a bald forehead and a fringe of
curly chestnut hair round his head. He was evidently extremely
near-sighted, and wore a glass in one eye, the effort of keeping which
in its place occasioned an odd contortion of his facial muscles. He was
rubicund, and looked like a man who might grow to be very stout later in
life. At present he was only rather stout, and was braced, and
strapped, and tightened, so as to make the best of his figure. His dress
was the dress of a dandy of that day, and he wore a fragrant hothouse
flower in his button-hole.

"That must be Jack Price!" thought Algernon, he scarcely knew why; and
the next moment he got away from the dowager and her daughters, and
sauntered towards the door.

"Oh, here is Mr. Errington," said Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs, looking round at
him as he made his way through the crowd. "Do let me introduce you to
Mr. Price. This is Mr. Ancram Errington, a great friend of my brother
Orlando. You have met Orlando, I think?"

"Oh, indeed, I have!" said Mr. Jack Price, in a rich sweet voice, and
with a very decidedly marked brogue. "Orlando is one of my dearest
friends. Delightful fellow, what? Orlando's friend must be my friend, if
he will, what?"

The little interrogation at the end of the sentence meant nothing, but
was a mere trick. The use of it, with a soft rising inflection of Mr.
Jack Price's very musical voice, had once upon a time been pronounced to
be "captivating" by an enthusiastic Irish lady. But he had not fallen
into the habit of using it from any idea that it was captivating, nor
had he desisted from it since all projects of captivation had departed
from his mind.

"I was to have met you at dinner, last night, Mr. Price," said Algernon,
shaking his proffered hand.

"Last night? I was--where is it I was last night? Oh, at the
Blazonvilles! Yes, of course, what? Why didn't you come, then, Mr.
Errington? The Duke would have been delighted--perfectly charmed to see
you!"

"Well, that may be doubtful, seeing that I cannot flatter myself that
his Grace is even aware of my existence," said Algernon, looking at Mr.
Price with twinkling eyes, and his mouth twitching with the effort to
avoid a broad grin.

Jack Price looked back at him, puzzled and smiling. "Eh? How was it
then, what? Was it--it wasn't me, was it?"

Algernon laughed outright.

"Ah now, Mr.--Mr.--my dear fellow, where was it that you were to have
met me?"

"My cousin, Lady Seely, was hoping for the pleasure of your company, Mr.
Price. She was under the impression that you had promised to dine with
her."

Jack Price fell back a step and gave himself a sounding slap on the
forehead. "Good gracious goodness!" he exclaimed. "You don't mean to say
that?"

"I do, indeed."

"Ah, now, upon my honour, I am the most unfortunate fellow under the
sun! I don't know how the deuce it is that these kind of misfortunes are
always happening to me. What will I say to Lady Seely? She'll never
speak to me any more, I suppose, what?"

"You should keep a little book and note down your engagements, Mr.
Price," said Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs, as she walked away to some other guest.

Mr. Price gave Algernon a comical look, half-rueful, half-amused. "I
don't quite see myself with the little book, entering all my
engagements," said he. "I daresay you've heard already from Lady Seely
of my sins and shortcomings?"

"At all events, I have heard this: that whatever may be your sins and
shortcomings, they are always forgiven."

"I am afraid I bear an awfully bad character, my dear Mr.----"

"Errington; Ancram Errington."

"To be sure! Ah, I know your name well enough. But names are among the
things that slip my memory. It is a serious misfortune, what?"

Then the two began to chat together. And when the crowd began to
diminish, and the rattle of carriages grew more frequent down in the
street beneath the drawing-room windows, Jack Price proposed to
Algernon to go and sup with him at his club. They walked away together,
arm-in-arm, and, as they left Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs's doorstep, Mr. Price
assured his new acquaintance that that lady was the nicest creature in
the world, and one of his dearest friends; and that he could take upon
himself to assert that Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs would be only too delighted to
receive him (Algernon) at any time and as often as he liked. "It will
give her real pleasure, now, what?" said Jack Price, with quite a glow
of hospitality on behalf of Mrs. Machyn-Stubbs. Then they went to Mr.
Price's club. It was neither a political club, nor a fashionable club,
nor a grand club; but a club that was widely miscellaneous, and
decidedly jolly. Algernon, before he returned to his lodging that night,
had come to the opinion that London was, after all, a great deal better
fun than Whitford. And Jack Price, when he called upon Lady Seely the
next day, to make his peace with her, declared that young Errington was,
really now, the most delightful and dearest boy in the world, and that
he was quite certain that the young fellow was most warmly attached to
Lord and Lady Seely.

All this was agreeable enough, and Algernon would have been content to
go on in the same way to the end of the London season had it been
possible. But careless as he was about money, he was not careless about
the luxuries which money supplies. Certainly, if tradesmen and landlords
could only be induced to give unlimited credit, Algernon would have had
none the less pleasure in availing himself of their wares, because he
had not paid for them in coin of the realm. But as to doing without, or
even limiting himself to an inferior quality and restricted quantity,
that was a matter about which he was not at all indifferent. He was
received on a familiar footing in the Seelys' house; and his reception
there opened to him many other houses, in which it was more or less
agreeable and flattering to be received. Among the Machyn-Stubbses of
London society he was looked upon as quite a desirable guest, and
received a good deal of petting, which he took with the best grace in
the world. And all this was, as has been said, pleasant enough. But, as
weeks went on, Algernon's money began to run short; and he soon beheld
the dismal prospect ahead--and not very far ahead--of his last
sovereign. And he was in debt.

As to being in debt, that had nothing in it appalling to our young man's
imagination. What frightened him was the conviction that he should not
be permitted to go on being in debt. Other people owed money, and seemed
to enjoy life none the less. Mr. Jack Price, for instance, had an
allowance from his father, on which no one pretended to expect him to
live. And he appeared very comfortable and contented in the midst of a
rolling sea of debt, which sometimes ebbed a little, and sometimes
flowed alarmingly high; but which, during the last ten years or so, he
had managed to keep pretty fairly at the same level. But then Mr. Price
was the Honourable John Patrick Price, the Earl of Mullingar's son--a
younger son, it was true; and neither Lord Mullingar, nor Lord
Mullingar's heir, was likely to have the means, or the inclination, to
fish him out of the rolling sea aforesaid. At the most, they would throw
him a plank now and then just to keep him afloat. Still there was
something to be got out of Jack Price by a West-end tradesman who knew
his business. Something was to be got in the way of money, and, perhaps,
something more in the way of connection. Upon the whole, it may be
supposed that the West-end tradesmen understood what they were about,
when they went on supplying the Honourable John Patrick Price with all
sorts of comforts and luxuries, season after season.

But with Algernon the case was widely different, and he knew it. He had
ventured to speak to Lord Seely about his prospects, and to ask that
nobleman's "advice." But Lord Seely had not seemed able to offer any
advice which it was practicable to follow. Indeed, how should he have
done so, seeing that he was ignorant of most of the material facts of
the case? He knew in a general way that young Ancram (Algernon had come
to be called so in the Seely household) was poor; but between Lord
Seely's conception of the sort of poverty which might pinch a well-born
young gentleman, who always appeared in the neatest-fitting shoes and
freshest of gloves, and the reality of Algernon's finances, there was a
wide discrepancy. Algernon had indeed talked freely, and with much
appearance of frankness, about his life in Whitford; but it may be
doubted whether Lord Seely, or his wife either--although she, doubtless,
came nearer to the truth in her imaginings on the subject--at all
realised such facts as that Mrs. Errington had no maid to attend on her;
that her lodgings cost her eighteen shillings a week; and that the smell
of cheese from the shop below was occasionally a source of discomfort in
her only sitting-room.

With Lord Seely Algernon had made himself a great favourite, and the
proof of it was, that my lord actually thought about him when he was
absent; and one day said to his wife, "I wish, Belinda, that we could do
something for Ancram."

"Do something for him! I think we do a great deal for him. He has the
run of the house, and I introduce him right and left. And he is always
asked to sing when we have people."

"That latter looks rather like his doing something for us, I think."

"Not at all. It's a great advantage for a young fellow in his position
to be brought forward, and allowed to show off his little gifts in that
way."

"He is wasting his time. I wish we could get him something to do."

"I am sure you have plenty of claims on you that come before him."

"I--I did speak to the Duke of Blazonville about him the other day,"
said my lord, with the slightest hesitation in the world.

The Duke of Blazonville was in the cabinet, and had been a colleague of
Lord Seely's years ago.

"What on earth made you do that, Valentine? You know very well that the
next thing the duke has to give I particularly want for Reginald."

"Oh, but what I should ask for young Ancram would be something at which
your nephew Reginald would probably----"

"Turn up his nose?"

"Something which Reginald would not care about taking."

"Reginald wouldn't go abroad, except to Italy. Nor, indeed, anywhere in
Italy but to Naples."

"Exactly. Whether the duke would consider that he was particularly
serving the interests of diplomacy by sending Reginald to Naples, I
don't know. But, at all events, Ancram could not interfere with that
project."

"Serving----? Nonsense! The duke would do it to oblige me. As to Ancram,
I have latterly had a kind of plan in my head about Ancram."

"About a place for him?"

"Well, yes; a place, if you like to call it so. What do you say to his
coming abroad with us in the autumn?"

"Eh! Coming abroad with us?"

"Of course we should have to pay all his expenses. But I think he would
be amusing, and perhaps useful. He talks French very well, and is lively
and good-tempered."

"I have no doubt he would be a most charming travelling companion----"

"I don't know about that. But I should take him out of kindness, and to
do him a service."

"But I don't see of what use such a plan would be to him, Belinda."

"Well, I've an idea in my head, I tell you. I have kept my eyes open,
and I fancy I see a chance for Ancram."

"You are very mysterious, my dear!" said Lord Seely, with a little
shrug.

"Well, least said, soonest mended. I shall be mysterious a little
longer. And, meanwhile, I think we might make him the offer to take him
to Switzerland with us, since you have no objection."

"I have no objection, certainly."

"I think I shall mention it to him, then. And, if I were you, I wouldn't
bother the duke about him just yet."

"But what is this notion of yours, Belinda?"

The exclamation rose to my lady's lips, "How inquisitive men are!" but
she suppressed it. It was the kind of speech which particularly angered
Lord Seely, who much disliked being lumped in with his fellow-creatures
on the ground of common qualities. Even a compliment, so framed that my
lord was supposed to share it with a number of other persons, would have
displeased him. So my lady said, "Well, now, Valentine, you'll begin to
laugh at me, very likely, but I believe I'm right. I think Castalia is
very well inclined to like this young fellow. And she might do worse."

"Castalia! Like him? Why, you don't mean----?"

"Yes, I do," returned my lady, nodding her head. "That's just what I do
mean. I'm sure, the other evening, she became quite sentimental about
him."

"Good heavens, Belinda! But the idea is preposterous."

"Yes; I knew you'd say so at first. That's why I didn't want to say
anything about it just yet awhile."

"But allow me to say that, if you had any such idea in your head, it was
only proper that it should be mentioned to me."

"Well, I have mentioned it."

Lord Seely clasped his hands behind his back, and walked up and down the
room in a stiff, abrupt kind of march. At length he stopped opposite to
her ladyship, who was assiduously soothing Fido; Fido having, for some
occult reason, become violently exasperated by his master's walking
about the room.

"Why, in the first place----do send that brute away," said his lordship,
sharply.

"There! he's quiet now. Good Fido! Good boy! Mustn't bark and growl at
master. Yes; you were saying----?"

"I was saying that, in the first place, Castalia must be ten years older
than this boy."

"About that, I should say. But if they don't mind that, I don't see what
it matters to us."

"And he has not any means, nor any prospect of earning any, that I can
see."

"Why, for that matter, Castalia hasn't a shilling in the world, you
know. We have to find her in everything, and so has your sister Julia,
when Castalia goes to stay with her. And if these two could set their
horses together--could, in a word, make a match of it--why, you might do
something to provide for the two together, don't you see? Killing two
birds with one stone!"

"Very much like killing two birds, indeed! What are they to live on?"

"If Ancram makes up to Castalia, you must get him a place. Something
modest, of course. I don't see that they can either of them expect a
grand thing."

"Putting all other considerations aside," said my lord, drawing himself
up, "it would be a very odd sort of match for Castalia Kilfinane."

"Come! his birth is as good as hers, any way. If his father was an
apothecary, her mother was a poor curate's daughter."

"Rector's daughter, Belinda. Dr. Vyse was a learned man, and the rector
of his parish."

"Oh, well, it all comes to the same thing. And as to an odd sort of
match, why, perhaps, an odd match is better than none at all. You know
Castalia's no beauty. She don't grow younger; and she'll be unbearable
in her temper, if once she thinks she's booked for an old maid."

Poor Lord Seely was much disquieted. He had a kindly feeling for his
orphan niece, which would have ripened into affection if Miss Castalia's
character had been a little less repellent. And he really liked Algernon
Errington so much that the notion of his marrying Castalia appeared to
him in the light of a sacrifice, even although he held his own opinion
as to the comparative goodness of the Ancram and Kilfinane blood. But,
nevertheless, such was Lady Seely's force of character, that many days
had not elapsed before his lordship was silenced, if not convinced, on
the subject. And the invitation to go to Switzerland was given to
Algernon, and accepted.



CHAPTER XIX.


As the spring advanced, letters from Algernon Errington arrived rather
frequently at Whitford. His mother had ample scope for the exercise of
her peculiar talent, in boasting about the reception Algy had met with
from her great relations in town, the fine society he frequented, and
the prospect of still greater distinctions in store for him. One or two
troublesome persons, to be sure, would ask for details, and inquire
whether Lord Seely meant to get Algy a place, and what tangible benefits
he had it in contemplation to bestow on him. But to all such prosy,
plodding individuals, Mrs. Errington presented a perspective of vague
magnificence, which sometimes awed and generally silenced them.

The big square letters on Bath post paper, directed in Algernon's clear,
graceful handwriting, and bearing my Lord Seely's frank, in the form of
a blotchy sprawling autograph in one corner, were, however, palpable
facts; and Mrs. Errington made the most of them. It was seldom that she
had not one of them in her pocket. She would pull them out, sometimes as
though in mere absence of mind, sometimes avowedly of set purpose, but
in either case she failed not to make them the occasion for an almost
endless variety of prospective and retrospective boasting.

It must be owned that Algernon's letters were delightful. They were
written with such a freshness of observation, such a sense of enjoyment,
such a keen appreciation of fun--tempered always by a wonderful knack of
keeping his own figure in a favourable light--that passages from them
were read aloud, and quoted at Whitford tea-parties with a most
enlivening effect.

"Those letters are written _pro bono publico_," Minnie Bodkin observed
confidentially to her mother. "No human being would address such
communications to Mrs. Errington for her sole perusal."

"Well, I don't know, Minnie! Surely it is natural enough that he should
write long letters to his mother, even without expecting her to read
them aloud to people."

"Very natural; but not just such letters as he does write, I think."

Minnie suppressed any further expression of her own shrewdness. Her
confidence in herself had been rudely shaken; and she made keen,
motive-probing speeches much seldomer than formerly. And she could not
but agree in the general verdict, that Algernon's letters were very
amusing. Miss Chubb was delighted with them; although they were the
occasion of one or two tough struggles for supremacy in the knowledge of
fashionable life between herself and Mrs. Errington. But Miss Chubb was
really good-natured, and Mrs. Errington was unshakeably self-satisfied;
so that no serious breach resulted from these combats.

"Dormer--Lady Harriet Dormer!" Miss Chubb would say, musingly. "I think
I must have met her when I was staying with Mrs. Figgins and the Bishop
of Plumbunn. And the Dormers' place is not so very far from Whitford,
you know. I believe I have heard papa speak of his acquaintance with
some of the family."

"Oh no," Mrs. Errington would reply; "not likely you should have ever
met Lady Harriet at Mrs. Figgins's. She is the Earl of Grandcourt's
daughter; and Lord Grandcourt had the reputation of being the proudest
nobleman in England."

"Well, my dear Mrs. Errington," the spinster would retort, bridling and
tossing her head sideways, "that could be no reason why his daughter
should not have visited the bishop! A dignitary of the Church, you know!
And as to family--I can assure you the Figginses were most
aristocratically connected."

"Besides, Miss Chubb, Lady Harriet must have been in the nursery in
those days. She's only six-and-thirty. You can see her age in the
'Peerage.'"

This was a kind of blow that usually silenced poor Miss Chubb, who was
sensitive on the score of her age. But, on the whole, she was not
displeased at the opportunity of airing her reminiscences of London; and
she did not always get the worst of it in her encounters with Mrs.
Errington.

Mrs. Errington had one listener who, at all events, was never tired of
hearing Algy's letters read and re-read, and whose interest in all they
contained was vivid and inexhaustible. Rhoda bestowed an amount of eager
attention on the brilliant epistles bearing Lord Seely's frank, which
even Mrs. Errington considered adequate to their merits.

Often--not quite always--there would be a little message. "How are all
the good Maxfields? Say I asked." Or sometimes, "Give my love to Rhoda."
Mrs. Errington took Algernon's sending his love to Rhoda much as she
would have taken his bidding her stroke the kitten for him. She did not
guess how it set the poor girl's heart beating. It was only natural that
Rhoda's face should flush with pleasure at being so kindly and
condescendingly remembered. Still less could the worthy lady understand
the effect of her careless words on Mr. Maxfield. Once she said in his
presence, "Have you any message for Mr. Algernon, Rhoda?" (She had
recently taken to speaking of her son as "Mr." Algernon; a circumstance
which had not escaped Rhoda's sensitive observation.) "You know he
always sends you his love."

"Oh, my young gentleman has not forgotten Rhoda, then?" said old
Maxfield, without raising his eyes from the ledger he was examining.

"Algernon never forgets. Indeed, none of the Ancrams ever forget. An
almost royal memory has always been a characteristic of our race." With
which magnificent speech Mrs. Errington made an impressive exit from the
back shop.

Old Max knew enough to be aware that the tenacity even of a royal memory
had not always been found equal to retaining such trifles as a debt of
twenty pounds. But so long as Algy remembered his Rhoda, he was welcome
to let the money slip. Indeed, if Algy behaved properly to Rhoda, there
should be no question of repayment. Twenty pounds, or two hundred,
would be well bestowed in securing Rhoda's happiness, and making a lady
of her. Nevertheless, old Max kept the acknowledgment of the debt safely
locked up, and looked at it now and then, with some inward satisfaction.
Algernon was coming back to revisit Whitford in the summer, and then
something definite should be settled.

Meanwhile, Maxfield took some pains to have Rhoda treated with more
consideration than had hitherto been bestowed on her. He astonished
Betty Grimshaw by sharply reproving her for sending Rhoda into the shop
on some errand. "Rice!" he exclaimed testily, in answer to his
sister-in-law's explanation. "If you want rice, you must fetch it for
yourself. The shop is no place for Rhoda, and I will not have her come
there." Then he began to display a quite unprecedented liberality in
providing Rhoda's clothes. The girl, whose ideas about her own dress
were of the humblest, and who had thought a dove-coloured merino gown as
good a garment as she was ever likely to possess, was told to buy
herself a silk gown. "A good 'un. Nothing flimsy and poor," said old
Max. "A good, solid silk gown, that will wear and last. And--you had
better ask Mrs. Errington to go with you to buy it. She will understand
what is fitting better than your aunt Betty. I wish you to have proper
and becoming raiment, Rhoda. You are not a child now. And you go amongst
gentlefolks at Dr. Bodkin's house. And I would not have you seem out of
place there, by reason of unsuitable attire."

Rhoda was delighted to be allowed to gratify her natural taste for
colour and adornment; and she shortly afterwards appeared in so elegant
a dress, that Betty Grimshaw was moved to say to her brother-in-law,
"Why, Jonathan, I'll declare if our Rhoda don't look as genteel as 'ere
a one o' the young ladies I see! Why you're making quite a lady of her,
Jonathan!"

"Me make a lady of her?" growled old Max. "It isn't me, nor you, nor yet
a smart gown, as can do that. But the Lord has done it. The Lord has
given Rhoda the natur' of a lady, if ever I see a lady in my life; and I
mean her to be treated like one. Rhoda's none o' your sort of clay,
Betty Grimshaw. She's fine porcelain, is Rhoda. I suppose you've nothing
to say against the child's silk gown?"

"Nay, not I, Jonathan! She's welcome to wear silk or satin either, if
you like to pay for it. And, indeed, I'm uncommon pleased to see a bit
of bright colour, and be let to put a flower in my bonnet. I'm sure
we've had enough of them Methodist ways. Dismal and dull enough they
were, Jonathan. But you can't say as I ever grumbled, or went agin' you.
Anything for peace and quietness' sake is my way. But I do like church
best, having been bred to it. And I always did, in my heart, even when
you and David Powell would be preaching up the Wesleyans. I never said
anything, as you know, Jonathan. But I kept my own way of thinking all
the same. And I'm only glad you've come round to it yourself, at last."

This was bitter to Jonathan Maxfield. But he had had once or twice to
endure similar speeches from his sister-in-law, since his defection from
Methodism. His autocratic power in his own family was wielded as
strictly as ever, but his assumption of infallibility had been fatally
damaged. To get his own way was still within his power, but it would be
vain henceforward to expect those around him to acknowledge--even with
their lips--that his way must of necessity be the best way.

At the beginning of April there came to Whitford the announcement that
Algernon had received and accepted an invitation to accompany the Seelys
abroad in the late summer; and that, therefore, his visit to "dear old
Whitford" was indefinitely postponed. This announcement would have
angered and disquieted old Max beyond measure, had it not been that
Algernon took the precaution to write him a letter, which arrived in
Whitford by the same post as that which brought to Mrs. Errington the
news of his projected journey to the Continent. It was a very neat
letter. Some persons might have called it a cunning letter. At any rate,
it soothed old Max's anxious suspicions, if it did not absolutely
destroy them. "I believe, my good friend," wrote Algernon, "that you
will quite approve the step I am taking, in accompanying Lord and Lady
Seely to Switzerland. They have no son, and I think I may say that they
have come to look upon me almost as a child of the house. I remember all
the good advice you gave me before I left Whitford. And when I was
hesitating about accepting my lord's invitation, I thought of what you
would have said, and made up my mind to resist the strong temptation of
coming back to dear old Whitford this summer." Then in a postscript he
added: "As to that little private transaction between us, I must ask you
kindly to have patience with me yet awhile. I try to be careful, but
living here is expensive, and I am put to it to pay my way. You will not
mention the matter to my mother, I know. And, perhaps, it would be well
to say nothing to her about this letter. May I send my love to Rhoda?"

In justification of this last sentence, it must be said that Algernon
was quite innocent of Lady Seely's project regarding himself and
Castalia; and that there were times when he thought with some warmth of
feeling of the summer days in Llanryddan, and told himself that there
was not one of the girls whom he met in society who surpassed Rhoda
Maxfield in the delicate freshness of her beauty, or equalled her in
natural grace and sweetness.

Algernon had really excellent taste.


END OF VOL. I.





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